BELLMORE-MERRICK, NY — In order to develop a next-level education, recreational and vocational experience for students within the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District through age 21, the department of special education and pupil personnel services created a PREP Academy to help prepare them for adult life.
“Through work with parents, students, teachers and community organizations, we have identified areas that are essential for our students to be successful adults,” said Eric Arlin, director of special education and pupil personnel services.
The goals of the academy include social understanding and skills, self-advocacy and developing specific job skills and independent recreational skills. Students are also taught functional academic skills such as managing a bank account or understanding their paychecks. Some students will also be continuing high school coursework necessary to complete graduation requirements.
“This program culminates in students obtaining a local or Regents high school diploma,” Emily Paluseo, assistant director of special education and pupil personnel services, said. “Additionally, we are providing non-credit bearing courses to prepare the students for transition.”
The district’s current high school-aged special education programs, PREP for Life and COORE, are housed at Sanford H. Calhoun High School. PREP Academy provides services for 18 students at the Brookside building in North Merrick, however, they have the capacity for up to 30 students. Additionally, after-school clubs and activities will be available.
Staff at the program includes on-call psychologists who also work full time at the Meadowbrook Alternative Program in the same building, various special education teachers, as well as job coaches.
While all related services that are on a student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) are available, the program will also provide support language, communication and social understanding. PREP Academy program will continue to work with MaryJo Kennedy and the South Oaks vocational team, as well as several other external adult day program agencies.
Once the state allows, students will be paired up at job sites such as offices, department stores, manual labor and more. Job coaches will also attend to help facilitate work-related responsibilities, travel and breaks.
“During pandemic-related limitations, an in-building job site plan will be made available to all students in the program daily,” Arlin said.
Some of these enhanced opportunities at Brookside include entrepreneurial, culinary and custodial experiences, mail and printing, office work and more.
“Additionally, we will offer an agriculture opportunity, where the students learn how to cultivate vegetables that are later used in our district’s food bank, the Community Cupboard,” Paluseo added.