For more than 35 years, The Y.A.L.E. School, a state-approved private school, has been making a difference in the lives of students with disabilities and their families.
Now on eight campuses in southern and central New Jersey, Y.A.L.E. provides evidence-based special education for students ages 3 to 21 with social learning needs and emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Under federal law, local public school districts must provide a free and appropriate education to every student with a disability. If a district does not have a program that can meet a child’s needs, they must offer other placement options, including a specialized, private school.
In most cases, a student placed in a private school has limited access to “typical” peers, but The Y.A.L.E. School has changed that equation by creating opportunities for students with complex disabilities to receive specialized services in a “regular” school.
Access to Inclusion
On four of its campuses—Audubon, Mansfield, Medford, and a new program in Mullica Township—The Y.A.L.E. School operates classrooms within a local public school, creating a unique “school-within-a-school” program. This allows students with disabilities, such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, to receive highly specialized, intensive services, and at the same time, attend school in a building with typical peers.
The model is cutting edge.
“Y.A.L.E.’s programs have consistently been the most innovative and highest quality in the Delaware Valley,” says Matthew Tincani, Ph.D., BCBA-D, an associate professor and behavior analyst at Temple University. “Y.A.L.E. was the first to embrace the private-school-within-a–public-school model for students with autism.”
Y.A.L.E. School students at these campuses can be part of the larger school community—eating lunch in the cafeteria, going out for recess with typical students, using the school library and gym, going to assemblies, and going to the prom and field day. Some students take part in art and music offered by the public school. And some campuses use “reverse inclusion” to bring typical public school students into The Y.A.L.E. classrooms.
“As a result of these strategies, many of our students have made friends with their public school peers,” says Zora Berman, MA, BCBA, assistant director at Y.A.L.E.’s Audubon campus, which serves roughly 24 students with autism in three different classrooms.
A Win-Win for All
Not only is the program good for Y.A.L.E.’s students, it also benefits the public school students. As they are exposed to classmates with complex disabilities on a daily basis, typical students develop empathy and learn life lessons on diversity, tolerance and acceptance.
“We have not had any problems around issues such as teasing or bullying,” says John Barnard, who oversees the Audubon and Mullica Township campuses. “Our kids are fully accepted by the public school students. One of our high-schoolers attended the public school’s formal dance and was voted ‘King of the Prom.’”
Barnard says that it is the administration and leadership at each of the local public schools that set the positive tone for success, and ensure that Y.A.L.E.’s students are welcomed by all. This strong support from public school leaders has allowed Y.A.L.E.’s “school-within-a-school” model to grow and flourish.
“The collaboration between the Medford public school district and Y.A.L.E. has been mutually beneficial,” says Gale Ferraro, Medford’s director of pupil personnel services, who oversees special education in that district. “It has helped us establish a positive relationship with a highly regarded private school for the disabled.”
A Culture of Optimism
To help their students learn, all the teachers at Y.A.L.E. use evidence-based instructional methods that have a proven record of success. As new research emerges, they review and adopt state-of-the-art teaching strategies. In addition, the teachers and staff at Y.A.L.E. consistently offer hope and encouragement, even in difficult situations.
“The teachers at Y.A.L.E. are among the very best that any of my four children have had,” wrote Alison Perrone, the mother of a 9-year-old student at Y.A.L.E.’s Mansfield Campus, which serves students with Asperger’s syndrome within two public schools. “They never miss an opportunity to turn something that happens in the classroom into a positive learning experience.
“Y.A.L.E. has changed our son’s future for the better, giving him tools he needs to reach his full potential for academic and social success,” added Perrone. “We are incredibly grateful he has the opportunity to attend Y.A.L.E.”
Taking the Next Step
A state-approved private school for students with disabilities, Y.A.L.E. serves students from 3 to 21 throughout southern and central New Jersey in Audubon, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Medford, Mansfield, Mullica Township, Northfield and Williamstown. For those interested in pursuing a child’s placement, staff will work to provide information and schedule a tour.
The Y.A.L.E. School (Main Campus)
2127 Church Road
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 4 (June, 2012).
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