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When a student has struggled just to pass their classes and seems impossible to motivate toward graduating, many public school administrators throw their hands in the air and label the student a lost cause with a dim future. But schools like Eastwick College have come up with a better option: high school shared time programs.

These innovative programs enable at-risk and special education high school students to earn credits toward graduation while learning in-demand career skills like culinary arts, electrical and plumbing repair, and computer/electronics repair. For many, these “shared time” programs can be the difference between graduating with their peers or dropping out, yet local municipalities often keep parents in the dark about this opportunity, instead choosing to consign these students to a study hall where they are largely ignored.

From 2014–15, there were 6.6 million children with disabilities enrolled in special education programs, making up 13 percent of total public school enrollment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and that number has been on the rise. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are required to provide children with disabilities access to a free education that is tailored to their individual needs. These disabilities can range from speech and language impairment to developmental delays or autism. However, only a small percentage suffers from severe handicaps, and with the appropriate accommodations and support services the majority can excel in their studies.

Despite a legislative mandate to ensure these students are provided with the educational services they need to succeed, many fall behind, left to stagnate in a system that cannot or does not guide them through the unique obstacles they face. Nearly a third or more leave high school without a standard diploma, and lag behind other students by up to 41 percentage points on standardized tests. This poor performance is not an inevitable outcome: experts suggest even students with cognitive disabilities can successfully learn grade-level content.

That’s no surprise to Judy Filippini, director of the High School Shared Time Program at Eastwick College. She’s seen firsthand that given the right opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities, these students exceed the expectations placed on them.

“Time and time again I’ve seen just how brilliant these kids can be when they’re able to apply themselves in an environment that better fits their aspirations and aptitudes,” she explains. “A traditional classroom might not work well for them, but they easily pick up electronics fundamentals, or the intricacies of medical anatomy and physiology. High school shared time programs help a non-traditional student find their spark.”

The students attend the daily occupational training as part of their junior and senior year of high school from 11:30am to 2:00pm. Academic subjects are taken at the “home” high school and students are transported to the shared time programs for specialized occupational/vocational training. All transportation is provided by the home district school system.

If you know of a student that is struggling in their high school and could benefit from the type of program offered by Eastwick College, bring the idea up with their case manager or guidance counselor. For more information on the program and how it works, contact program director Judy Filippini at 201-488-9400 or visit eastwick.edu/sharedtime.