NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: HARBOR SCHOOL, Eatontown, N.J. Special Education. 50th ANNIVERSARY More LOVE and IRON. by Calvin Schwartz Friday August 9th 2019
The Harbor School 50th Anniversary. There are no symphonies and fanfares in special education which means many people don’t understand what it’s all about.
I’ve been on a mission to absorb, learn, observe, and write about the world of Special Education; perhaps a euphemism, for children with handicaps; physical, behavioral, mental challenges beyond our comprehension.
Like many, I’d never really experienced the inside or outside elements of that world. As thoughts congeal, I need to say, having spent quality time today (and at other special education facilities) that my focus now is to convey what the staff, teachers, aides, therapists, administrators give to the special children, always with what I call LOVE and IRON; they must be filled with much love to do this and made from iron to endure. There is an invisibility by the public because many have no idea the devotion, strength, knowledge, spirit, possession to do this day in and out.
A few weeks ago, I spent the day at Future Foundations Academy (autism). Social media can be positive. A teacher of 26 years at the Harbor School, Sandy Greebel (a cousin) saw my posts, then read my article here on njdiscover.com. An invitation followed by Anne Gunteski, Principal of Harbor School since 1993 and Dana Giblin, Program Director, to visit for the 50th Anniversary of Harbor School
As a new journalist, a few years ago, I was dispatched to Rutgers University, Graduate School of Applied Psychology, which was developing a unique program of hiring or enrolling autism/spectrum individuals who have aged out of the system and mentoring them with graduate students. A month later, a day facility for autistic children. Next, ‘Chance to Dance,’ an inclusive special education troupe from North Carolina, who competed two summers ago in an international dance competition at the Meadowlands. Recent Off-Broadway premiere of ‘Self Injurious Behavior’ by playwright Jessica Cavanagh, and her personal story with an autistic son. A recent ‘Read Across America’ event where I read to special education classes.
HARBOR SCHOOL BACKGROUND (website: https://harborschool.com/ )
Fifty years is a long time to be giving back especially when they began in 1969, with so few programs for children with special needs. Because of paltry government involvement back then, a group of parents got together and started Harbor School.
Today they provide so much in social, life skills, transition. As I’ve come to understand, so much goes into preparing a child for life skills and beyond, so they can contribute and work towards an independence. I’ll throw a few conceptual words out; academics, social studies, language, health, daily living, self-care, work, shopping, cooking, laundry skills, physical ed, art, dance, music, speech therapy. An intensive, caring, comprehensive program. A brave new world.
A 50th Anniversary is hugely special in any forum. The list of dignitaries invited included Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez. On hand were Eatontown Mayor Anthony Talerico, Congressional Representative Eric Houghtaling, who read a Proclamation. The ceremonies began in the gymnasium converted to an elegant hall, luncheon tables decorated with floral center pieces, memorabilia, and chocolates shaped like an anchor. Especially festive. New Jersey Department of Special Education Director, Dr. Kim Buxenbaum also spoke. When finished, I whispered congratulations, on being here, and for the fact that New Jersey ranks second in the country in Public Schools and probably, virtually, no one knows.
Synchronicity follows me around; as soon as my wife and I walked into the gym, signed-in, there was Gilbert Velasquez, whom I’d just been in touch with a few days prior, regarding a film project. We had no idea of our Harbor School connection, so we hugged and related. A few years ago, Gil was a guest on Danny Coleman’s Rock on Radio show which I co-hosted at the time. Gil is an accomplished singer-songwriter and is also just as accomplished a filmmaker, serving as Creative Director of ‘gvcerv communications.’ ( www.gvcerv.com )
Gil was there to premiere a film he made over many months, documenting the Harbor School, interviews, programs, children, teachers, aides; upbeat, inspiring, emotionally evocative and magnificently filmed. I signed on to promote the film when it hits You Tube. Why? Because it deals with my first paragraph here, the Love and Iron that goes into Harbor School and the world of Special Education. A chance for mainstream to grasp and appreciate.
Prior to the celebration, luncheon, film, my wife, an educator for 35 years, and I sat down with Dana Giblin. She talked about how far the school has evolved from 1969, when children were just defined as ‘neurologically impaired.’ Over the years, Harbor School has vastly grown. In addition to functional, core academics, today, Harbor School offers a wide variety of support services and specialty programming. There is a focus on social skills, independent living, career education, and community-based instruction, wherein the classroom is carried out into the community.
Harbor School also has a partnership with Rutgers University Behavioral Health, a school-based program that provides a range of psychiatric and mental health services. “Harbor School creates a highly individualized program that is meaningful and focused on each student’s needs. We provide support for job sampling with real life situations with help from T. J. Maxx, Marshall’s and Tim McCloone’s Restaurants.”
After lunch, Brian Dorgan, Supervisor of Instruction, took us on a tour of the school. Joining us, ‘Robbie,’ a graduate of the school 20 years ago. For me, particularly poignant as was Brian who knew the name of each of the 75 students. There is new innovation, classrooms, science, computers, emphasis on STEM.
Back in the gymnasium, a brief speech by Executive Administrators Ruth Reinhard and Jean Stack and then a personal highlight, student performances on stage. “The More We Get Together,” “Stuck Like Glue,” “Seize the Day,” and the “Harbor School Anthem.” One student resonated. She was as animated and mobile as any back-up dancer on Broadway. A brave new world.
Harbor School is part of RKS Associates Schools including Gateway, Alpha School and Prime Time Centers which nurtures and cares for over 21-year-old clients; so vastly important. The notion of LOVE and IRON. Harbor School. A perfect day.