Shrewsbury talks post-secondary program for special education students

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ShrewsburySHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Public Schools want to create a post-secondary program to support students ages 18 to 22 who require special education services. 

The program envisions starting a business in Shrewsbury where students can practice their skills. 

This would, in some ways, mirror Westborough’s BORO Program and the BORO Sugar Shack, which currently serves Westborough students by giving them the opportunity to gain experience in a functioning candy store in the downtown area.

Program presents ‘community-based’ option

In the past, School Committee Chair Jon Wensky said, Shrewsbury has typically referred older students who require special education services to public and private programs out of the district, such as Assabet Valley Collaborative’s Evolution program.

“Ultimately, we feel that this community-based piece will be a stronger and more appropriate program,” Superintendent Joseph Sawyer told the School Committee at a meeting last month. 

The goal is for the students to get employment opportunities to the best of their ability, said Assistant Director Meghan Bartlett. 

“I’m very excited to see the work that you’re doing,” said School Committee member Jason Palitsch. “This is very ambitious, but I think it’s, frankly, high time that Shrewsbury went down this road. I think we’re a big enough school district that it’s time to explore offering this type of program to our students. I’m really excited to see you guys beginning this work.”

The district has applied for and received $344,000 in American Rescue Plan funding to support the program.



What is currently offered?

According to the presentation at the committee’s Nov. 17 meeting, the annual tuition for a student in Shrewsbury’s current 18-22 program averages $54,000 without transportation. 

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Meg Belsito is projecting an increase in enrollment for out-of-district placements for existing transition programs.

Next year, she said, the district is anticipating four students will need these services. That number will likely increase to 14 students in 2024. 

“I think the initial sense, obviously, is that we think this [won’t] cost anymore than what we’re already spending on the program and is likely to be more cost effective while also being a more quality program in terms of quality in the sense of having these opportunities right within our own community,” Sawyer said.

Currently, Shrewsbury High School provides internships and vocational opportunities for students both with and without disabilities. 

The School Committee heard from senior Ryan Love, who said that his post-secondary vision is to work at McDonald’s, to give meals to customers and to someday live in an apartment with his friends. 

Love is one of the students in Shrewsbury’s MOVE Program, which is short for Mobile On-Site Vocational Exploration. 

The MOVE Program is a class that helps high school students be involved in a vocational training program. 

It is typically for juniors and seniors, according to its website, and operates at two Marlborough hotels.

Shrewsbury High School Director of Special Education Meghan DeLeon said most of their work, including in the school’s vocational opportunities, involves teaching soft skills like socialization with adults and the ability to be flexible and manage difficult situations. 

Some of the MOVE Program’s students would transition to this new program, if they’re eligible. 

Next steps

Staff are planning to look for space to house this new program in the coming months, getting input from realtors and town staff. They’ll also start searching for a program coordinator.

Staff members plan to form an advisory group, which would include students.

Down the road, staff members anticipate securing curriculum and space, planning for renovations, and acquiring a vehicle with grant funds before finalizing staff plans next June.

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