School rises to occasion of meeting special needs

New regulations could interfere with district


Staff Writer

PHOTOSBYMIGUEL JUAREZ staff Natalie Joye hugs her brother, Ryan, in front of the Inclusive Arts Showcase sponsored by Recognizing Issues in Special Education (RISE) at Allentown High School on Dec. 16.PHOTOSBYMIGUEL JUAREZ staff Natalie Joye hugs her brother, Ryan, in front of the Inclusive Arts Showcase sponsored by Recognizing Issues in Special Education (RISE) at Allentown High School on Dec. 16. Just like snowflakes, no two people are alike, and the Upper Freehold Regional Elementary School District recognizes that.

The district’s students who may have learned this concept best are those who had artwork featured in the Inclusive Arts Showcase on Dec. 16.

Twenty-two students in prekindergarten through eighth grade used some of their spare time to create meaningful expressions of how their school and community help them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

“I can feel confident when the teacher explains what I don’t understand,” Kelly Krueger wrote on her showcase entry.

Fourth-grader Tony Martone wrote, “I feel included when I make new friends, and when I laugh and play with other children.”

When asked how it feels to be included, a pre-K student drew a happy face and colored it purple, another entry in the showcase.

Alexandra, 7, and Tony, 10, Martone read what they wrote for the Inclusive Arts Showcase. Alexandra, 7, and Tony, 10, Martone read what they wrote for the Inclusive Arts Showcase. The whole school had the opportunity to artfully express what makes students unique and what makes them feel included. All the entries were displayed at the PTA’s Laser Light Show and Holiday Gift Shop, held at Allentown High School. Now the artwork hangs in the elementary/middle school building.

The Inclusive Arts Showcase came as a result of National Inclusive Schools Week, which took place Dec. 5-9. During that week, students learned about inclusive values through teachings in the classroom and special morning announcements.

Recognizing Issues in Special Education, or RISE, a subcommittee of the PTA, sponsored the week of inclusive events, including the showcase. Since 2001, RISE has formed a collaborative group of district parents and educators who work together for the benefit of children with special needs, according to RISE Chairwoman Kelly Borden-Joye.

“The district starts teaching its students at a very young age to try to recognize and accept each other’s differences and our own differences,” Borden-Joye said.

Borden-Joye said RISE helps parents and guardians of students who have special needs partner with people in the community to help children feel included and to provide free and applicable public education.

“Basically, when a child with special needs feels separated or segregated,” Borden-Joye said, “we are not preparing them to incorporate into the community.”

RISE assists families seeking more inclusive settings and services for their children in the school district. Inclusion is about making sure each and every student feels welcome and that individuals’ unique needs and learning styles are attended to and valued, according to Borden-Joye.

Borden-Joye said the Upper Freehold Regional School District is willing to work with all parents who have children with special needs.

“I moved back to this area when my daughter Natalie, who has Down syndrome, was 3,” Borden-Joye said. “This is a small enough district that it can get my child what she needs.”

Although Borden-Joye said the local school district serves families with special needs well, she said New Jersey as a whole is behind in inclusion.

“New Jersey still has a lot of private, separate special education programs,” Borden-Joye said. “Many other states are more inclusive.”

Borden-Joye said inclusion also creates awareness and understanding.

“A lot of the reason why there are still barriers is there is still fear and ignorance in society,” Borden-Joye said.

Borden-Joye and other representatives from the district and from schools all over the state will attend a public meeting at the state’s Board of Education building at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21. During that meeting, which will take place at 100 Riverview Plaza in Trenton, the public will have the opportunity to express views on inclusion and special education in New Jersey.

The public meeting is the result of an amendment made to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) last winter. The amendment marked the first time in eight years that the federal law governing special education was revised.

Once the law was passed, the United States Department of Education started to develop rules and regulations for states to follow. Because some of the changes proposed by the federal government are less strict than New Jersey’s current regulations, people like Borden-Joye intend to use the public comment session to speak out against the new provisions.

What’s mainly at issue, according to information provided by Borden-Joye, is that the new IDEA eliminates the need for a periodic report informing parents and guardians of their students’ progress and whether the progress will meet year-end goals.

The new IDEA also eliminates the requirement for short-term objectives or benchmarks and annual reviews. In addition, it would allow districts to develop three-year reviews, according to information provided by Borden-Joye.

RISE is trying to expose the changes and involve more people in the community, according to Borden-Joye.

“New Jersey had a code stronger than the federal one,” Borden-Joye said.

Besides taking public action against reforms that could hinder special education, RISE also has a parents network that consults with parents individually or in a group setting about their child’s education program.

With financial support from the PTA, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) and the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education (NJCIE), RISE recruited and trained parents to support other families in the special education process.

Tanya Cheff, the PTA’s program coordinator, said RISE programs are important for the PTA to sponsor.

“The PTA bridges the communication between parents, teachers and the school,” Cheff said. “We all work together to build a sense of community to try to make a difference for our children.

“Our slogan is ‘One child, one voice,’ ” she said.

Borden-Joye said, “As this community keeps growing, it is inevitable that this district will have more students with special needs. RISE wants to help the district ensure that it can meet all of those needs.”

For more information about RISE, call (609) 259-8299 or visit