Lenape district highlights program for special-needs students

The Transition to Adulthood Program teaches pupils life skills

Learning differently during COVID-19 is hard for any student, but especially for students with special needs.

At the Lenape Regional High School District, special education students are able to continue building their life skills in person and online. 

The district runs the Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP), which allows young adults with disabilities to develop strategies for living away from home and create skill sets that will help them land jobs.

The program is unlike any other in the district: Special-education students go to Evans School in Evesham, where the Lenape district has a TAP “apartment” that teaches cooking, cleaning and working with others. The students pair with local businesses who give them jobs to do, like preparing envelopes for mailing, packaging goods and making decorations.

“This program is for some of our special students who remain in school after they’ve met the graduation requirements,” explained Patricia Piserchia, director of special services in the district. “They may still need to work on some other skills that are more functional. It helps to prepare them for life after high school.”

The TAP program, featured at the Lenape district’s board of education meeting in December, has its own kitchen; lounge area; and cafe, with a bakery and coffee bar, where students learn cashier and retail skills. 

TAP debuted in September 2019, and since then, has partnered with more than 50 community businesses, including Russo’s in Tabernacle, Medford Care and the Mount Laurel Library. 

“Our job developer works with our community and pairs students to match their strengths and interests,” Piserchia noted. 

Before the pandemic, TAP learners would visit those businesses and work on assignments there. Now, TAP faculty picks up the work, delivers it to the program and returns it to the businesses once it’s complete.

“Bringing the work to us allowed us to continue to work on many of the skills the students would be doing at the businesses,” Piserchia added. “The students really enjoy it.”

TAP currently has 23 adult learners, 15 of whom attend the program in person five days a week. Eight other learners are working remotely, but are still able to participate in work-preparedness lessons. 

Teachers drop off and pick up work from remote students’ homes, allowing them to continue supporting local businesses.

“I tried to make the best out of it. And try to have fun with it,” said Danny Diaz, a TAP student who is learning from home. “It’s like watching TV, kind of. So, school on TV.”

The TAP “apartment” is usually filled with laughter, collaboration and learners spending time with each other, Piserchia said. In 2020, social distancing guidelines have kept the young adults physically farther away,  but they still connect with each other each day.

“After COVID it looks a lot different,” she added. “But we’re still learning, we’re still enjoying each other’s company and we’re still having fun.”