Innovative Program Helps FHS Special Needs Students Transition Out Of High School

The PCAST program allows students to focus on aspects of themselves that will help them into adulthood.

The Franklin High School library was the setting May 14 for a year-end presentation of an innovative, yet not new, program aimed at special needs students.

Funded by the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Education, the Person Centered Approaches in School and Transition (PCAST) is a project of Rutgers University  – The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities. The program is open to students aged 14 to 21 with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities.

The program’s objective is to help students self-evaluate their needs and challenges and identify their personal strengths and goals, recognizing how these can shape their lives now and into their adult futures.

“Person centered planning is holistic, positive and strength-based, which utilizes facilitated conversations focusing on deep introspection and future planning,” said Barbara Kalimanis, autism teacher at FHS. “Information is gathered from multiple sources throughout the year from people children identify as closest to them.”

Students are asked to delineate key facets of their personalities, positive and negative, for their own awareness as well as that of their teachers. Twenty one students presented their individual two-page plans which had been worked on during the school year.

Students’ comments were varied and universal, addressing these categories: Great Things About Me, What’s Most Important To Me, What Others Need To Know and Do Best To Support Me and How I Communicate, My Vision For The Future.

The presentation program was coordinated by Michael Steinbruck, PCAST project leader at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities.

“This program is in Franklin for three years now, but is 25 years in the making,” he said. “It’s all about feeling connected to others and that we belong. It’s about solving problems together.”

“While the PCAST model could be used for students of all abilities and developmental stages, the work done in Franklin High School was focused on students with disabilities who are in the transition program,” said Mary Clark, the district’s communications coordinator.

“PCAST helps the teaching staff create plans within an individualized structure that kids can then use to transition into their adult lives,” Steinbruck said.

Board of Education President Nancy LaCorte expressed her enthusiasm for the program and the students.

“This is a fantastic program we can offer to students to help create self-awareness and how to best work with someone else,” she said. “We are so lucky we have such great kids, and kudos to Michael Steinbruck.”

Also participating in the presentation were Jennifer Meyer, Intellectual Disabilities and In-Class Resource teacher; Jennifer Bauer, Transition to Life and Career; David Goldstein, Transition Coordinator, and Kalimanis.

Students’ commentary was varied and universal within the following categories:

  • Great Things About Me: I am independent, I am kind, I take pride in my work, I want to please my family, I sing and play piano, I laugh and smile, I’m good with tech, I have good visual memory, I love trains, I’m a fast runner, I love basketball and church, I love pizza, I’m on time, I’m responsible, I’m respectful, I cook and clean, I’m a good multi-tasker, I’m funny, I love Disney.
  • Most Important To Me: Order, to be more educated, to look good and fit in, my mom, being independent, my friends, to be respected, to stay connected to family and friends, music, baseball, bowling, to paint.
  • What You Need To Know To Support Me And How I Communicate: I withdraw and I need aloneness, I wait for approval, I don’t like loud noises, talk to me in a low-volume voice, I need time to process and respond, I cry easily, I need to focus, I learn by reading, I learn one thing at a time, I take time to think before I answer, I tighten up and get angry if you ask me to communicate, I speak quietly – when I’m angry give me space and walk away and I will come back and apologize, I’m cautious, I need to know how to calm down.
  • My Future Vision For Myself: I want to work with my hands, I want to be a fireman, I want to be a bakery chef and make bread, I want to be a nice person and not hurt anyone, I want to drive a car, I want to own a business, I want to make cupcakes, I want to know how to pay my bills, I want to know how the world works and have a family, I want to work with people and dogs, I want to move to Florida, I want to work on a train as a conductor, I want to visit the Grand Canyon, I want to save money, I want to make more friends, I want to do the right thing.

“The more this PCAST happens in schools, there will be more seamless transition to adult life,” Steinbruck said. “If you can capture it early, it stays with the person.”

“You have to understand and address the gifts and what’s deeply important to people if you want the outcome of people having good lives,” he said.

Here are some scenes from the event:


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