Harvard schools pushing for special education plans to bloom

Once open, proposed site could be used by other districts, community groups

District 50's Harvard Community High School

Upgrades to transitional program space for special education learners could offer more opportunities for the community as well as students. Harvard School District 50 Superintendent Corey Tafoya is carrying that message.

A $850,000 grant from Advance McHenry County, part of American Rescue Plan funds, will pay for half of the project. Talked about for six years or so, it is envisioned as an addition to Jefferson Elementary, Tafoya said.

Once completed, the facility would have “everything necessary (for students) to be as self sufficient as possible” whether they have an intellectual or physical development delay, Tafoya said.

Area school districts also could send students to the Harvard facility to meet their own federally mandated opportunities for this population, he added.

Exactly where the transitional facility would go has not been determined, the superintendent said. However, Jefferson Elementary, which houses fourth-and fifth-grade students, has available acreage and is close to the 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 grant dollars would not be available for remodeling buildings the district did not own.

Building or site plans for Jefferson have not been drawn up or forwarded to the school board, Lafoya added. Discussions to move forward with the plan are expected later this summer.

The program currently offers students who have graduated from their academic programs the life skills they need for independent living, Tafoya said.

For the past several years, District 50 offered the transitional program in rented space at an area church, using its kitchen and other facilities to teach life skills.

“We don’t have all of the things we need” including an example of living space to help acclimate the students to independent home life, he said.

The district also splits classes because of limited space. “They had less instruction and less time than they deserved,” Lafoya said.

Tafoya said he and the school board envision a space with mock apartments, washers and dryers, bedrooms and kitchens. While not offering housing accommodations, those spaces can help these young people obtain the skills needed to live on their own, with family, or in other supportive housing.

Tafoya said it has been a goal from the board and himself to ensure students have modern facilities built to meet current needs.

“We are not settling. It is what our kids deserve,” he said.

The transitional program starts once these students have graduated from an academic setting. Students with Individual Education Plans stay in the program until the year of their 22 birthday.

During the program, many of the students also work: either in District 50 schools or other area businesses.

Once completed, the district’s facility could also open up the program to neighboring school districts that do not have appropriate spaces, he said.

The Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association could also use the space for programming, he noted.

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