NJ Student Sheds Light on NYC Special Needs School & Local NJ Programs in Interview with DRG Architects

    Written By: Mikayla Salib

    Back in 2019, Design Resources Group Architects (DRG) broke ground on the revolutionary Richard H. Hungerford School in Staten Island, the first of its kind, developed from the NYCSCA’s vision to meet the unique needs and challenges required for students with special needs and severe disabilities in a nurturing, supportive environment.

    This past December, Mikayla Salib, a student from Montgomery High School in New Jersey, sat down with some of the architects involved in bringing this state- of-the-art learning facility to life.

    In this pre-COVID interview, Mikayla asks about the Hungerford School design process, what features will improve the overall experience of special needs students, and draws comparisons to her local special needs program at Montgomery High School.

    Going back to the beginning, the DRG team visited other schools that specialized in education for children with disabilities as part of our research for NYCSCA. This was followed by talking to teachers, therapists, aides, and parents about specific aspects of the building design that would be customized to create a supportive environment for the students.

    According to the Director of Design, Victor Rodriguez, AIA, the feedback from everyone involved was integrated into the building design with unique
    features such as “ quiet and soft lights that will not irritate student’ s sensitive eyes” and “ non-distracting rooms that are clutter-free to decrease sensory overload, that have unified colors, sound-absorbing materials, and non-reflective glass.”

    The school also provides vocational training for students to build their independence and skills that will benefit them in the real world. The design team included a daily living instructional classroom where students are taught in an apartment-like setting to practice living on their own. Specifically, a culinary arts classroom is provided, where students can show their talent by taking meal orders from staff, cooking, food preparation and the delivery of meals.

    In an interview with the Principal of DRG, Timothy Margolin, LEED AP, AIA shared how the Hungerford School was the starting push for a movement in improving the special education school system for schools throughout New York City. “ We already have other clients asking us to design similar schools in other parts of New York City. This school is a model for others to follow, creating the foundation for a better educational experience for students with special needs that can reach children throughout the country.”

    Bringing the focus in on a local level, the community can better understand the programs Montgomery High School in Skillman, New Jersey has to offer for its students with disabilities. Montgomery has a Skybox program where students with different severities and types of disabilities are taught academic and vocational skills with the help of trained teachers and aides. They also integrate students with special needs into other classes such as a gym class or home economics where the students are exposed to a setting that is inclusive of those with and without disabilities.

    A special education teacher at Montgomery, Mrs. Caltiere, said, “ We have come such a long way in the special education system. Doctors used to tell parents that their child would never amount to anything and they should be put into an institute. Now children with disabilities have the right to free education and are given program opportunities in school such as the Skybox program” in order to help them achieve a more meaningful life.

    The Hungerford School is expected to open its doors in September 2021, becoming another example of how the special education system in America is continually advancing, creating more opportunities for children with disabilities to be able to find their place in the world.

    View the PDF Version Here

    View the Hungerford Project Page Here

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