Glendale Unified's special education program honored

GLENDALE — A division of special education at Glendale Unified was honored by the state Friday for its innovative instructional programs.

The Foothill Area Community Transition Services, or FACTS program, was selected by the California Advisory Commission on Special Education, which presented the award in Sacramento.

The program is for 18- to 22-year-olds from Glendale Unified or La Cañada Unified who’ve finished high school but need further social or developmental skills, said Amy Lambert, the assistant superintendent of special education for Glendale Unified.

“They teach them life skills and work skills and community living skills to make them successful in adulthood,” she said. “They’re able to become more independent and productive members of society and be part of the community.”

Federal law requires school districts to provide additional support after high school for some students with special needs.

“We’re helping them launch into the community once they leave us,” said Jay Schwartz, the program’s principal. “Once you leave the public school system, it’s a wide, wide world. Just like every other child who leaves high school, for our kids, that’s where they are vulnerable, in that transition.”

The FACTS program has about 60 students, with four teachers and more than a dozen volunteers in four classrooms at an educational center near Edison Elementary School. Classes are planned by the week, where students do everything from cooking to laundry, to writing and formatting a resume.

“A typical day is very hard to describe — it’s a community-based program that focuses on independence, vocational skills, life skills, self advocacy, communication,” Schwartz said. “We’re basically teaching them to be productive adults and be members of their community.”

This is the first state award to be presented to more than one school district, and state leaders hope the FACTS program will be replicated elsewhere, said Anthony Sotelo, a special-education consultant with the California Department of Education.

“Hopefully, some other school districts throughout the state will say, ‘Hey, they came up with this great idea and design, why can’t we do that in our community,” he said. “There are some districts that are just head and shoulders above other districts in the kinds of programs they’ve implemented and the kinds of outcomes their students are achieving.”

A typical lesson will involve cooking. Students then prepare a budget, a shopping list, a way to and from the grocery store using public transportation, and then prepare the meal in the FACTS kitchen.

“Traditionally, the transition is for students who are not diploma-track students and need different skill sets,” Lambert said. “It very much replicates their life.”

In his third year teaching FACTS students, Aaron Walgenbach has seen growth week by week.

“For many of the students, the most exciting thing is getting them to plan social activities with their peers outside the school,” he said. “If you’re able to catch the small things where they are improving, and if you continue those and highlight those, they’ll keep bettering themselves.”

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