This year, we partnered with our first school in New Jersey: Sussex Christian School. Founded in 1958, Sussex Christian serves students from northern New Jersey and neighboring areas of New York and Pennsylvania. Today, they enroll 142 students annually.
Like many schools, they have always served students with learning disabilities, but hadn’t been able to welcome students with higher needs until recently. Two years ago, Corey VanderGroef enrolled, the youngest of six children to attend Sussex Christian School. At the time, Corey was non-verbal and had significant communication impairments.
Corey’s language immediately exploded.
“We knew we did the right thing,” recalls Corey’s mom, Tracy. “Every child should be educated and know they are loved by God.” Last Christmas, Corey told the Christmas story in front of his class with an illustration he had made.
Corey has been a blessing to his classmates as well. He plays with everyone, his mother says, bringing his favorite toys to share on the playground. He is a comfort to new students especially, who appreciate his friendliness.
Because of their experience with Corey, Sussex was able to welcome another student with high needs this year. Their vision for an inclusive Kingdom is coming true, one student at a time.
“Corey changed this school for the future,” administrator Trish King explains. “We want to be able to welcome every student, educate them to the fullest extent, and help them be who God designed them to be.”
Last fall, we traveled to Sussex to conduct a site study, a two-day intensive observation of the school’s current gifts and growth areas as related to inclusive education. Barbara Newman recalls, “When I arrived, it was clear SCS already had a commitment and passion for inclusion. In talking through the suggestions and ideas from the site study, you could sense the energy building, knowing this could be an option for their school. After meeting with board, administration, staff, and some parents, the pull and desire to create inclusive community grew even stronger. I’m eager to see what God does in this community!”
Today, Sussex Christian School’s board is laying the groundwork for a long-term commitment to students at all levels of ability and disability. Their inclusion committee is beginning to explore funding models and best practices in special education services. They are starting by welcoming all children of already enrolled families, and preparing for the new families who may come for these services.
“We would love to see any family become comfortable with bringing their children to Sussex Christian. God’s children are all different,” reflects Ms. King. “We’ve already seen those classes with inclusive education students often get along better, and those students are missed when they aren’t around.”
We are proud to partner with Sussex Christian School, and we look forward to helping their community grow as they embrace students with high needs.
Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. This post originally appeared in the Inclusive – Fall 2013 newsletter. Read other stories from this bi-annual publication and sign up to receive it on our website.