No finer school facility is offered in California for severely disabled students than the newly remodeled John F. Kennedy School. That is the assessment of the new $16.3 million, 34,000-square-foot facility on Stonum Road in Ceres made by Tom Changnon, the superintendent of Stanislaus County schools.
On Tuesday the public was given a tour of what Changnon calls the “crown jewel of special education facilities” during an open house, presentation and ribbon cutting.
“There’s nothing like it in the state of California,” said Changnon. “It gives them the best possible opportunities to be successful in their lives, help them reach their potential. The state of the art features that the school has really endears to the students and their needs.”
Approximately 75 students with special needs from throughout Stanislaus County attend JFK, which is operated by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. They range in age from 3 to 22.
“It’s the only facility like it,” said Sarah Grantano, director of special education for SCOE. “There’s no other program for students with this severity of needs.”
Students attending JFK are categorized as severely disabled or medically fragile and often have severe behaviors incorporated with their disabilities. But despite the heart-breaking conditions that the students face, Grantano said “we do see a lot of growth, we celebrate a lot of success.”
“We work really hard with teams of the best professionals in this area that are working towards decreasing behaviors; they’re getting them to walk for the first time,” she said.
During a recent meeting held at JFK, board members saw excitement down the hall where a four-year-old was taking her first steps ever. In other cases a child will be taught the small but huge step of learning to hand items to a staff member for the first time while working towards communicating.
“When they learn to communicate, behaviors decrease,” said Grantano.
Grantano was beaming as she gave tours of the facility. The new school includes a therapy room, a sensory room, a vocational training center, and modern technology including Smart Boards and Smart Tables incorporated into classrooms. Smart Tables are touch activated and enable students in wheel chairs to roll right up to the table and work on various projects with a simple touch of the board. Technology is geared towards each individual student’s needs.
The darkened sensory room includes an interactive video image projected onto the floor from overhead equipment; students can manipulate images by sweeping their hands, feet or bodies over the floor. The activity can motivate disabled children to interact with their world and recognize cause and effect.
SCOE began the three-year project to renovate and replace the patchwork of special education facilities located on Stonum Road in Ceres in the spring of 2011. Since the county office qualified for state hardship money, funding came from the State Allocation Board for construction and modernization purposes from bonds passed years ago, including Propositions 1A, 1D, 47 and 55.
The new JFK School building sits facing Stonum Road where a maintenance building once stood.
The old JFK school building is being remodeled to become the new Margaret L. Annear Early Intervention Center, which is next door to JFK. All the modular buildings that form the existing Annear campus will be converted to a much needed parking lot.
A program for severely disabled students was started in Stanislaus County in 1952. It was expanded from a teacher’s home to classrooms in 1954. In 1965 JFK was dedicated on the present location.