Upgrades to the bridging program space for special education learners could provide more opportunities for the community as well as students. Corey Tafoya, Superintendent of School District 50 at Harvard, carries this message.
An $850,000 grant from Advance McHenry County, part of the US bailout fund, will pay for half of the project. It’s been talked about for about six years, it’s being considered as an addition to Jefferson Elementary, Tafoya said.
When completed, the facility would have “everything necessary (for students) to be as self-sufficient as possible” whether they have intellectual or physical developmental delays, Tafoya said.
Area school districts could also send students to the Harvard facility to meet their own federally mandated opportunities for this population, he added.
The exact destination of the transition facility has not been determined, the director said. However, Jefferson Elementary, which houses fourth and fifth graders, has available square footage and is close to high school, making it a more ideal option, he said.
Before the site was suggested, the district met with real estate agents to find other possible locations, Lafoya said. But federal grants would not be available for renovations to buildings the district did not own.
Building or site plans for Jefferson have not been developed or submitted to the school board, Lafoya added. Discussions to move the plan forward are expected later this summer.
The program currently equips students graduating from their college programs with the life skills they need to live independently, Tafoya said.
For the past several years, District 50 has offered the bridging program in rented space at an area church, using its kitchen and other facilities to teach life skills.
“We don’t have everything we need,” including a sample living space to help acclimate students to independent family life, he said.
The district is also dividing classes due to limited space. “They got less education and less time than they deserved,” Lafoya said.
Tafoya said he and the school board are considering a space with mock apartments, washers and dryers, bedrooms and kitchens. Although they do not provide housing, these spaces can help these young people learn the skills needed to live alone, with family, or in other supportive housing.
Tafoya said he and the council aim to ensure students have modern facilities built to meet today’s needs.
“We are not settling down. This is what our children deserve,” he said.
The bridging program begins once these students have graduated from an academic setting. Students with Individual Education Plans remain in the program until the year of their 22nd birthday.
During the program, many students also work: either at District 50 schools or at other businesses in the area.
Once completed, the district facility could also open the program to neighboring school districts that lack suitable spaces, he said.
The Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association could also use the space for programming, he noted.