Sarah is a Fellow at Hill Freedman World Academy. Originally from Doylestown, PA, Sarah is a 2016 graduate of West Chester University, with a BSEd in both Elementary and Special Education and a minor in Youth Empowerment Studies. This year, she was the assistant coach for the HFWA girls' volleyball team. Outside of school, she coaches swimming, plays guitar, and is our resident crafting expert!
Sitting at my desk as the first bell after break rings, I take a moment. I take in the surroundings of the almost empty PLUS Center. It’s hard to place what exactly it is, but our room appears worn. I mean this, of course, in the very best way. There is light, color, and evidence of the students and teachers who spend their days there. The PLUS Center at Hill Freedman World Academy is reminiscent of a room in your parents’ house: comfortable and lived in. And for our students, staff, and me, it has taken the shape of home within school. Today, students, teachers, and building staff alike filter in and out, refreshed and bubbly after break; already reclaiming their spots and sprawling over the cozy environment 12 Plus has brought to Hill Freedman.
The walls of our Center see a variety of students who utilize us as a resource. We’re there for academic support, help navigating the college process, and of course just as a comfortable place to work with people who care. Hill Freedman has a large population of students who fall into the category of “Complex Support Needs,” which is how the population of students receiving special education services is referred to in our building. I have spent a large portion of my life working with the special needs population. I began teaching swim lessons to special needs swimmers at 15 and quickly realized that part of my passion for education fell in supporting students who qualified for special education services. That passion continued to blossom throughout college, and I received my degree in both elementary and special education last year. In my time as a Fellow with 12 Plus, I’ve had the ability to bring my experience in the education (and specifically special education) field to our Center and our students.
In our first few weeks of school, I familiarized myself with students and staff on the high school floor. I made sure to make all teachers aware of our Center’s location as well as when we were available to students. It wasn’t until there was an explicit invitation, though, that a few of our AS, or Autistic Support, classes made their way down to our Center for lunch. An important thing to note is that students on the autism spectrum share a difficulty in participating and initiating social behaviors. For these students to make the effort to get a pass from us in the morning and make their way to an often crowded and noisy Center was HUGE. As the weeks passed, I made some really firm connections with these students. I learned their likes, their dislikes, goals, what subjects in school they liked best, and which ones they struggled with.
Shortly thereafter, our special education coordinator invited me to be present at IEP meetings for this group of students who had become regulars in our Center. We were finding that more and more of the Complex Support Needs students who were juniors and seniors were taking an interest in post-secondary plans. I was so excited to see that these students were taking a real interest in their futures, and being in our Center definitely had an influence in that. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to keep working and exploring options with this group of students. Transition services for complex support need students plays a huge role in my personal passion. I firmly believe that there are opportunities for each student, and it is imperative to foster the goals of individual students to find the best fit for them. As I continue to work with students and teachers alike, I am so excited to explore and find resources and programs that will not just fit our students, but help them thrive.
The “Plus” in 12 Plus is representative of what happens after a student’s final year of high school. For some, that will be traditional two or four-year college or university. For others, it might be internships and apprenticeships, leading to a full-time job. For Complex Support Need students, that “Plus” is often a little less clear. I am so excited to continue my work as a Fellow, growing and learning with these students in finding paths that suit and support their needs. It can be a little scary at first, but I want to show all of our students just how many opportunities lie over here on the plus side of things.