Each of the eight member districts that make up the New Jersey Joint Council of County Special Services School Districts utilize technology in unique ways to meet the needs of the students they serve. One district has even been recognized by Apple for its innovative practices. The Bleshman Regional Day School, part of Bergen County Special Services School District, has been identified as one of 888 schools in the world, including only 19 in the state of NJ, as an Apple Distinguished School.

On Thursday, December 14, two representatives from Apple attended a recognition ceremony held at the Bleshman School, where they presented school officials with a plaque and banner signifying the distinction. In addition to opening remarks from Bleshman Principal Gail Coe and BCSSSD Superintendent Dr. Howard Lerner, the audience also heard from Apple representatives Paul Vassak and Dave Marra, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and Bergen County Commissioner Mary J. Amoroso. One of the most memorable parts of the ceremony was when 10 students each approached the podium and shared, in their own way, how technology impacts their everyday lives.

A student in a wheelchair accompanied by his teacher’s aid uses his communication device to talk about how he uses technology while the principal holds the microphone up to the device so the crowd can hear it. A student in a yellow sweatshirt stands at the podium with his teacher’s aid and the school principal and smiles as he addresses the crowd.

Student speakers describe how technology positively impacts their everyday life.

The Bleshman School students have a variety of ways that they use technology to meet their diverse range of needs. A key component of the technology that is utilized at Bleshman is having devices that are touch capacitive allowing students the ability to access curriculum, instruction and their environment simply through touch.

When students enter Bleshman, they receive an iPad which may be used for instructional activities, communication purposes and/or to interact within their environment with greater independence. For example, nonverbal students may utilize technology to communicate with staff members and peers, using Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices. Students in the Sensory Room can use technology to customize their experience by activating and interacting with their choice of equipment. The technology that has been integrated into the Smart Apartment allows students to turn lights on/off in all the rooms through touch or voice activated controls.

All classrooms are equipped with touch capacitive interactive displays. The use of technology is weaved into all aspects of the students’ program to develop and increase students’ communication, collaboration, and self-advocacy skills. It is used in the classroom, therapies, and specialty areas such as the School Store, Makerspace Lab and the above-mentioned Sensory Room and Smart Apartment. Technology is a key factor in giving each student the freedom to increase their independence in interacting with the world around them in their own way.

Marra spoke about his observations at Bleshman, noting, “I specialize in accessibility with Apple. I have been with Apple for 27 years . . . I have visited schools all around the country and of all the schools I’ve visited, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that is so creative, so admirable, so moving and so transformative in the way you’re using technology to enhance the lives of students.”

Each year as part of the Apple Distinguished Schools Program, Apple recognizes a handful of schools as being among the most innovative schools in the world. This program supports school leaders through events, opportunities to engage with experts and collaboration with peers who share an interest in sustaining an innovative learning and teaching environment. School leaders must first request an invitation to apply – and have it approved – before completing the application process.

“This is a recognition program where we find schools that are using technology in transformative ways that are above and beyond,” said Vassak. “Recently, we have gone to classrooms and seen the magic happen, and I’ll tell you one thing that is happening at Bleshman that inspires us the most is the creativity.”

Schools that receive this distinction are referred to as centers of leadership and educational excellence where leadership cultivates environments in which students are excited about learning and curiosity is fostered.

“The driving force in wanting to be part of the Apple program was the innovative technology. If this connection assists one student in improving their ability to access curriculum or to become more independent within their community, then the program has been a success,” said Coe. “Looking at the other schools on the website, I noticed that no other schools looked like ours. I thought to myself – why not us?”

As part of the application process, Bleshman had to submit videos based on three specific criteria: inspire, imagine and impact. Bleshman’s staff members used the videos as an opportunity to highlight the school’s vision and how school leadership advances that vision while teachers inspire a love of learning through the use of technology; showcase the innovative learning spaces that are designed to meet the unique needs of the student population; and emphasize how a combination of technology, collaboration, innovation and dedication inspires and empowers students to thrive in their communities.

Bleshman looks forward to collaborating with other schools within the program as well as attending the Apple training sessions.

Guests at the Apple Distinguished School recognition ceremony - dressed in suits, dress clothes and uniforms and standing in a line - hold a banner across the front of the group that says Distinguished School 2023-2026.

Showing the Apple Distinguished School banner before it is hung in the Bleshman School,
pictured L-R are: Dr. Howard Lerner, Superintendent of Bergen County Special Services Schools; William Barnaskas, Board of Education Member; James Tedesco, Bergen County Executive; Mary J. Amoroso, Bergen County Commissioner; Dave Marra, Senior System Engineer, Apple Accessibility Specialist, Apple Education; Gail Coe, Bleshman Day School Principal; Paul Vassak, Leadership and Learning Executive, Apple Education; Anthony Cureton, Bergen County Sheriff; and Chief Fred Federico from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.

“Having a member of one of our special services school districts recognized for their innovation is really an honor for all of us,” said Jamie Moscony, Joint Council Chairperson and Superintendent of Cape May County Special Services School District. “Our staff members are used to finding unique ways to meet our students’ needs each and every day. This recognition is a terrific example of how we dedicate ourselves to doing what’s best for our students.”