Annual Leadership Conference







NAPSEC Educator of the Year

Kevin Rafferty

HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Philadelphia, PA


Kevin Rafferty is a classroom teacher at HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. HMS School offers day and residential (5- and 7- day) programs for school-age children and young adults through age 21 who have severe, multiple disabilities usually resulting from cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or other neurological impairments. Kevinís class is comprised of young adults who are working on goals to enable them to best transition into adult life.  Kevin modifies all expectations to reflect each studentís individual talents and abilities.  In his IEP meetings Kevin speaks to the student about what he/she is learning from classmates and what classmates are learning from him/her.  He empowers his students to direct their own meetings.  He helps them prepare topics they would like to discuss.  Kevin very naturally works to develop executive functioning skills with students who are not able to develop functional traditional reading or math skills.  His approach is to provide experiences to enhance alternate literacy acquisition, promote self-esteem and mental health, and enable students to actively direct their day to day future lives.  The hallmark of Kevinís IEP meetings is respect for the student.


In the past few years, Kevin has assisted, on his personal time, with a student who was working on his Eagle Scout achievement.  He enabled the student to examine the tasks required not modifying them but dividing them into smaller achievable components to meet with his stamina.  This is just one illustration of Kevinís shifting typical teacher-student expectations. 


Kevin prepares his students for the future.  Many times, even up until graduation day, we are unsure what a specific future plan may involve.  Mr. Raffertyís current students are not candidates for competitive employment.  Kevin engages them in meaningful experiences in school and later in the community for volunteering and accessing leisure activities.


Kevin prepares individuals with complex diagnoses for navigating the world and extracting pleasure from daily life.  While he is working with his students he also is educating the community about how to accommodate their environment to allow full access.  This year Kevinís class is critically analyzing community businesses around our school looking at what does accessible really look like.  After the students finish this project they are tackling their home communities.  They will be visiting local establishments and talking with staff about accessibility needs beyond ramping.  Kevin has participated in a Drexel University design and research phase of developing an app for mobility impaired individuals in the Philadelphia area.


Kevin Rafferty is a teacher of others. He models his expectations and promotes achievement for his students.







Direct care worker of the year

Maria Hopkins

Elizabeth Lee Black School

Erie, PA

Maria is a priceless resource at the Elizabeth Lee Black School. She has been an exceptional para educator for many years and now serves as a para educator trainer. She embraces every opportunity to learn and develop new skills. Maria is highly trained in a multitude of specialized techniques and strategies utilized within our classrooms. She is fluent in implementation of ABA methods, Alternative Communication strategies, including PECS, and is able to set up classroom environments based on TEACCH and Pyramid models. She is currently part of a Verbal Behavior pilot project through the State of Pennsylvania Department of Education. She is organized, dynamic and creative. Maria energetically shares her knowledge with the entire school staff. Her smiling face and enthusiastic demeanor greet all of our new staff as they enter the school. The exceptional skills she possesses as a para educator for special needs students have easily translated into exceptional skills for teaching new para educators. A natural leader, she provides training on how to serve our children, implement programs and teach new skills. She also helps to establish a culture of caring. Maria serves as a consultant to train para educators in several school districts in our area. Her commitment to the staff and students in unparalleled.



When you meet Maria you will immediately be touched by the genuine care and joy she finds in others. She has devoted her career to serving people with special needs. She meets them where they are with compassionate respect and gently helps them grow. Her skill for teaching is remarkable. Maria truly considers every moment a teachable moment. She believes in the value and the potential of our students. She is always aware of their next step toward independence and does all she can to help them reach their goals. Whether it is eating with a spoon or maintaining safe behavior on the bus, Maria is always ready to teach the next appropriate skill to help our students progress. Maria's care goes beyond her basic job responsibilities. If a student has any material needs such as clothes or shoes, Maria quietly makes sure those needs are met. Often, by providing items from her own resources.


Maria is always paying attention. If she notices a need, she mobilizes the entire team to find solutions. She is tireless and passionate. Her positive attitude has inspired many in our building and served as the fuel for a School Wide Positive Behavior Supports campaign. After many years of direct work in the classroom, Maria now shares her extensive knowledge, experience and positive attitude with all the entire school staff as a para educator trainer. She teaches children and staff with a natural grace and joy that is contagious. Always willing to learn, she implements best practice strategies seamlessly throughout the entire day. She serves as a model of commitment, dedication and caring to the entire staff and student body. Her natural leadership skills help to establish a positive, can-do attitude throughout our school. Maria's tireless dedication and caring strengthen our school in a hundred different ways every day. We are better because she is part of our team.






Related Services Provider of the Year


Patricia Morris

Archbishop Damiano School

St. John of God community services

Westville Grove, NJ


Pat was initially employed as a direct service speech pathologist in 1983. During these early years Pat encountered students who lacked the potential to develop verbal speech or the fine motor skills necessary for recognizable signing. She developed an interest and expertise in the emerging field of computers and augmentative communications. Her first augmentative communications student was considered both behaviorally involved, and severely cognitively impaired. Pat secured one of the early dedicated augmentative communication devices for him and began working with him. The student found his voice. Behaviors began to disappear once he could communicate his needs. His latent cognitive skills emerged once he had a viable means for interacting with the world. Upon graduate he was able to work at a local recycle plant alongside of his non-disabled peers. This was the first of many, many such successes. As Archbishop Damiano Schoolís student population became increasing more involved. Pat assumed the role as our first augmentative communications specialist. In that role she was (and is) responsible for initial augmentative communications evaluations, overseeing augmentative communications trials, programming devices, providing consultative services to direct service speech pathologists, classroom teachers and parents, running augmentative communications student peer groups, and most importantly, providing ongoing leadership in augmentative communications. Pat has grown the program from a single student with a single augmentative communication device so serving over 50 students annually using nine different augmentative communication devices. Our schoolís success is directly related to our ability to provide high quality, in-house augmentative communications services.


Pat has been a leader in the field of augmentative communications since the early 1990s. Over the last 25 years Pat has introduced numerous initiatives that have been incorporated into our programs. In consideration of the two page limitation on descriptions I will limit my remarks to the two most recent initiatives Pat has undertaken. Pat was an early adopter of eye-gaze technology. She recognized that eye-gaze technology coupled with an augmentative communication device could give our most physically involved students a voice. The first eye gaze system Pat used were crude. It required the student to have perfect head control and to control the blink response in order for a retinal lock to be maintained. The advent of the Tobii PCEyeGo was a game changer with its ability to track eye gaze despite a student's unintentional head movements. Within months of the new systemís release, Pat convinced the schoolís administration to purchase this expensive device, and to pilot it was a young girl who had been unsuccessful with other devices. Among the studentís first communications using the device coupled with an iPad with LAMP (which Pat also introduced to the school) was to tell her mother that she loved her and that she liked Justin Beiberís music event though she thought she was too old for it. The school now owns four PCEyeGo systems. These systems are used for ongoing evaluative trials which Pat oversees and for piloting new approaches for classroom instruction.


Patís other contribution has been with the schoolís core vocabulary initiative. The initiative came about from a growing awareness among our speech pathologists and teachers that a more systematic approach to teaching both receptive and expressive language skills was needed. A core vocabulary collaborative learning team was formed for which Pat provided leadership. Pat and her team developed a core vocabulary list, instructional methodologies and instructional materials which over the course of the last three years have been implemented across all of the schoolís programs. Ironically when Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM), out of the University of Kansas, release its core vocabulary list it was essentially the same list the Patís team had developed. Since New Jersey is a DLM state our school was significantly ahead of the DLM implementation curve since our core vocabulary initiative was up and running.


Beyond her immediate role as augmentative communication specialist, Pat has provided additional services to our students and to the special education field in general. Pat has been solely responsible for the production the schoolís yearbook for the last decade. This is entirely a voluntary effort on her part since there is no stipend or remuneration involved. She does it because the yearbook is important to our students. She is actively involved with the prom and the annual agency carnival. She serves as an augmentative communication consultant to school plays and other school functions. Pat also is a member of the schoolís technology committee. In terms of contributions to the field, Pat has done professional presentations at our state associationís (ASAH) annual conference. She has mentored undergraduate students. She coordinated a ďteaĒ with university students who were interested in speech pathology and our high schoolís augmentative communication students. The tea gave our students the opportunity to practice their augmentative communication skills with peers and it allowed the university students an opportunity learn about augmentative communications in a real life setting. Finally, Pat has always been open to speaking with other professionals who have questions about augmentative communications and how it can improve the lives of individuals with significant disabilities.










The Benway School

Wayne, NJ



Innovations Through ď21st Century Careers"

At Benway School we constantly strive to open up new career possibilities for our students. We work tirelessly to ensure that everyone who walks through our doors has the greatest possible chance to succeed and achieve their dreams. This past year our Technology teacher, Julie Morganti, made a tremendous effort to expose our  population to robotics and our Public Information Officer, Matthew Bijas, provided a film production class. Our goal for these courses is to provide experience for our students to jumpstart into 21st century careers so that they may have the greatest chance at success.


Mrs. Morganti has championed the cause for technology at Benway since her employment began. She has been at the forefront at making sure that our students all have access to iPads, are competent Google users, and learn how to code. This past year she proposed to administration that the school should add a robotics course so that our population could learn to build and program robots. She explained that robotics is a growing field and the course would provide invaluable opportunities. Her persuasive argument convinced the Benway Directors to purchase three EZ-Robots, LEGO robotics, and a 3D Printer.


With these resources, Mrs. Morganti has created a High School robotics class that builds the EZ-Robots and learns to program them through coding. Members of the course have to learn how to give robots commands for each movement, which can include walking, talking, rolling, crawling, video recording, and more!


Mrs. Morganti also opened up an Elementary and Middle School course, which starts off with creating Jitterbugs and Ozobots. Jitterbugs are robots that are built with random items, which the students choose, and move with a simple, battery-powered motor. These classes built their own Jitterbugs and raced them to see how well their  creations could move across the floor. Ozobots teach students the basics of programming by having them draw  specific color patterns on a piece of paper, with markers, so that the Ozobot will ride along the path and perform the proper commands.


All classes then progress to LEGO Mindstorms, which allow the students to build their own robots out of LEGOs, and then program them with the LEGO APPs on iPads. The future goal is to build robot parts,           in-house, using the 3D printer. We have recently added a 3-D pen as well to give students the ability to make  creations through their own movements and skill. The 3-D pen is being utilized mostly for artistic purposes at this time, and opens up another opportunity for our students to use their creativity.


Based out of the same Technology Lab, Mr. Bijas started a Film Production class this year to offer a chance to learn about the different aspects of film, including the editing process, acting, and the other numerous job      opportunities within the field. Benway already had an HD Camera, lighting equipment, a green screen, audio equipment, and editing software, so Mr. Bijas just had to provide the time and instruction. The class was offered to high school students who were able to select the genre, focus, and content of the film. Mr. Bijas guided these efforts and wrote a script that the young actors completed just this past week.


The short film, Escape from Benway, is a satirical movie that plays off of classic horror film norms. During   production, students learned the importance of continuity in film, especially with wardrobe. They also learned the time and effort needed for a 10 minute movie, so that they could grow a better appreciation and understanding for the work that goes into a full length feature film. Mr. Bijas directed them to sharpen their acting skills, as well as show them techniques in set lighting, and green screening. After filming and editing was completed, Escape from Benway went to Benwayís music instructor, Vincent Scalia, to direct interested students in creating the score for the  movie in the schoolís Mac Audio Studio. The movie was premiered to the entire school and is now on Benwayís website and Youtube page.  Learn more about Benway - www.benway.org 



Chapel Hill Academy

Lincoln Park, NJ



Arts for the 21st Century

Chapel Hill Academy (CHA) is an out-of-district school for students, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, with academic, social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Our students benefit from the supportive and caring    atmosphere provided by CHA. Social skills are infused throughout the day and during weekly Social Skills classes. Our middle and high school students are offered a variety of career exploration opportunities, college prep    classes and social events. Peer tutoring, peer counseling, student council, sports teams, a music studio and full art program are just some of our offerings. We are fully approved by the New Jersey Department of Education and accredited by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Our belief is that every child has the right to develop to his or her fullest potential.


The students who participate in our Arts for the 21st Century program meet throughout the year with our Music Director, Peter Kalvert, to write their own songs, organize the musical arrangement, record, and edit their music. In conjunction with the music department the Graphic Design staff, Scott Buggeln, works with these students to then design the CD cover and artwork for the song list. Those students who participate in our Arts for the 21st Century program have expressed a stronger interest in mathematics and how it relates to the world around them, which helps relieve their anxiety during state testing. Many of these students have also chosen to enroll in our advanced course, Topics in Math and Science, which offers in-depth exploration of mathematical and scientific concepts. These students have also discussed how the creative outlet has helped them overcome various stressors, including one student explaining that her participation in the Arts program has helped her deal with the unexpected death of a close friend. The opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and nonjudgmental environment has also helped to build the self-esteem and emotional maturity of many of our students.


Within our program we have created an opportunity for our students to explore their creativity through Music and Graphic Design, which ties directly into advanced mathematical concepts. This program allows students to write, create, and perform their own musical creations with the end result being a yearly CHA musical album; as well as design and create the album cover through the use of our advanced Graphic Design courses. Our Arts program also offers graphic design courses such as photoshop and 3-D printing. These courses help the students further develop their artistic abilities while advancing their understanding of mathematical concepts. These advanced courses are on pace with the technological achievements of the 21st century. 3-D printing has   applications across several fields, but specifically the medical field. Students create 3-D figures that range from figurines and busts of their own faces to replacement screws and tools for everyday use.


Research on music and math are related to the brain from very early in life (Burack 2005). Musical elements (steady beat, rhythm, melody, and tempo) possess inherent mathematical principles such as spatial properties, sequencing, counting, patterning, and one-to-one correspondence. Graphic Design is the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, books, and everyday objects. Graphic Design requires mathematical concepts, such as scaling (resizing by percentages or dimensions), symmetrical and  non-symmetrical scaling, fractions to decimals, percentages to decimals, and utilizing the Fibonacci sequence to create a visually stunning creation.


Chapel Hill Academy strives to be on the cutting edge of creative and technological advances in order to prepare our students to achieve and maintain the behavioral, academic, social and emotional needs to become professionals in the 21st century. We work with our students to develop the necessary tools to be successful in an ever evolving world. The students play an integral part in developing these courses. Their input affords us the opportunity to help facilitate these goals and encourage each student to reach their full potential. To learn more about Chapel Hill Academy go to www.chapelhillacademy.net.




Programs accredited by NCASES in 2016


Recognized at the Celebrating NAPSEC Luncheon


Eden School, Princeton, NJ


Rachel Tait talks about the benefits

of getting NCASES Accreditation


First Children School, Fanwood, NJ



Kathleen McCarthy Gorski shares her experience with the

NCASES Accreditation process with attendees

Vista Life Innovations, Westbrook, CT


Helen Bosch encourages attendees

 to apply for NCASES Accreditation


Other programs accredited this past year, but not in attendance:

Academy at Morganís Wonderland, San Antonio, TX

CASA Pacifica, Camarillo, CA

The Day School at the Childrenís institute, Pittsburgh, PA

St. Coletta of Greater Washington DC



Thank you Dr. Brandenburg!

Dr. Brandenburg was recognized for her work as the NAPSEC

Conference Planning Committee Chair for the past two years.





National Association of Private Special Education Centers


Building Awareness


Changing Lives


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