By Karen Zautyk
In front of Goodwill Industries’ building on Supor Blvd., there is a brand new sign. “Palisades Regional Academy,” it reads.
Has Goodwill moved?
Only in the sense of moving forward in its stated mission “to empower individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment to gain independence through the power of work.”
GoodwilI remains at its Harrison headquarters, but it has moved onward in the realm of education, partnering with Palisades Regional Academy, which serves students in grades 6 through 12 According to the school’s website, these are youngsters who “demonstrate more serious learning and behavioral disabilities,” which might be compounded by psychiatric issues, substance abuse or trauma.
In other words, they need more help than most public school special education programs might offer. Palisades Regional, in operation since 1970, provides that help.
In addition to an academic curriculum, the school offers counseling (on a one-to-one basis) and guidance services and an emphasis on positive-behavior encouragement and reinforcement.
Originally located in Lodi (hence the reference to the Palisades), it moved to Paramus in 1975, and now it has relocated to Harrison, where it will share the Supor Blvd. site with Goodwill.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Sept. 16 to welcome the school, which currently has an enrollment of 25 students, each of whom was referred and placed by a local school district, Palisades Regional Executive Director Jeffrey Kahn said. Those districts are in five counties: Hudson, Bergen, Essex, Passaic and Union.
Tuition is $58,000 per year for “an educational and therapeutic environment” designed, as the website notes, to help those enrolled “develop the academic, social, behavioral and life skills needed to become independent and successful.”
Hence, the partnering with Goodwill, which has been devoted to helping individuals become self-sufficient since its founding in 1915. At the ribbon-cutting, William Forrester, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater N.Y. and Northern N.J., cited the upcoming centennial birthday and noted that the organization has always served people with special needs but over time it has branched out.
“We have broadened our mission to now include wounded warriors, the unemployed, the underemployed, the immigrant population and returning veterans,” Forrester noted.
“We’re very happy to have the academy here,” he said. “It fulfills part of our mission.”
Kahn called the new partnering “an amazing collaboration.”
Evelyn Bilal, director of adminstration at Goodwill, said that Palisades Regional students have been coming to the Harrison headquarters for several years for “job shadowing.” This is a way for young people to explore career options by observing the day-to-day activities of employees in various fields.
The academy’s goal is “to prepare students for the life that comes after school,” Kahn said. And since PRA was considering expanding its transitional services, he thought, “Why not bring the school here?”
Kahn purchased the academy in 1977 after working seven years in special education with the New York City Board of Education as a teacher, consultant and administrator.
He explained that the students his school is helping are “socially and emotionally struggling, or depressed, or oppositional to authority or routine.”
Palisades Regional, he said, is an approved private school–approved by the state. “It’s not an experiment. It’s not a pilot program. It’s a fact.”
As for the partnering with and moving to Goodwill, Kahn commented, “This is the best thing I’ve done in a very long time.”