MONTICELLO, NY — The building at 22 St. John St. has had a long and interesting life. It was the village’s first high school and it hosted space for community-service agencies, serving …
MONTICELLO, NY — The building at 22 St. John St. has had a long and interesting life. It was the village’s first high school and it hosted space for community-service agencies, serving the Monticello community for generations.
This year, a new initiative launched—the St. John Street Community School (SJSCS), which serves some of the district’s youngest learners, as well as some of its most complex learners.
This takes place in a preschool and high school program, and Jen Gorr serves as principal.
Gorr’s career in public education began in a special education classroom, where she worked as a teacher assistant in special education. That’s when she discovered her passion for serving students with special needs, a Monticello spokeswoman said, and when she decided to become a teacher.
After receiving her certification in special education, she worked in the Independent Academic Therapeutic Program (ITAP) at BOCES, serving students throughout the county. During that time, she completed her administrative certification, eventually joining the Monticello Central School District team as the supervisor of special education.
“I felt that this job was the best of both worlds,” Gorr said. “I missed being in the classroom as an educator, and missed being around kids. I also missed the atmosphere of ITAP, where we were able to reach some of the hardest-to-reach kids. With the district building a similar program, I knew I wanted to be part of it.”
For many years, the Easter Seals’ Project Excel program was housed in the building. After Project Excel announced its closure in January 2022, the district sought to create a new, district-managed program to continue to provide that programming.
The program, which serves three- and four-year-old residents of the district, aims to prepare students for kindergarten. Teachers at the preschool and the district’s kindergarten teachers collaborate, creating a program that increases literary skills and gives students a strong foundation for future learning, the spokeswoman said.
The program also emphasizes parent engagement, hosting nights once a month, when parents learn how to be partners in learning.
The district is in the process of hiring speech and occupational therapists, in order to provide specialized services to the preschool population of Monticello. In the future, they could serve children throughout Sullivan County.
Two floors up, a group of Monticello High School students is attending a new program at the SJSCS designed to accommodate students who perform well in a nontraditional environment. They are students with great academic skills, but who don’t thrive in a larger group. With a total enrollment of 25, the classes are much smaller, so each student receives highly individualized attention.
The program also has a later start than the traditional high school, which has resulted in improved attendance rates among the students. The students are taking an active role in building a strong program, offering their insight on what is working well and where there is room for improvement. Next year, Gorr hopes to double the number of spots available in the program to 50.
“I didn’t even realize I was learning when I started here,” said Ariana Foote, a 10th-grade student at the SJSCS. “I’m very energetic—I’m a big ball of energy, even when I’m tired. Not everyone can handle me. Here, it’s a more flexible way of learning, and the teachers let me be free.”
The curriculum for these students revolves around project-based learning, which incorporates real-world challenges into lessons and allows students to complete projects together.
Educators teach in teams. History lessons are reiterated in English lessons, for example. In addition, the program emphasizes college- and career-readiness, partnering with community groups, giving internships and other real-world experiences. Students have opportunities to learn about local businesses.
“I want to bring the community into the school, and the school into the community,” Gorr said. “I want [the students] to have the opportunity to see what else is out there, outside of their current environment. Many students have the mindset that there’s nothing here in Monticello and that they need to get out of Monticello as soon as possible. We want students to see the value of our community, and hopefully, for them to be an integral part of making this community a better place.”
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