Valley Forge Educational Services Personalizes Special Education to Prepare Children and Adults with Disabilities for Workplace Success
With programs like Customized Workforce Solutions, their Daily Living Center, the Work Orientation Readiness Center, and more students at The Vanguard School receive real world training in addition to their education.
On a 28-acre campus in Malvern, complete with a fitness trail, high and low ropes challenge course, three playgrounds, greenhouse, daily living apartment, and school buildings is one of the best-kept secrets in special education: Valley Forge Educational Services (VFES).
The Vanguard School
For more than 60 years, this educational organization has been carrying out its mission of preparing children and adults with special needs to realize their potential as contributing members of the community. This is accomplished through its cornerstone program, The Vanguard School, serving students K-21 years, and its recreational, employment and social program, Adult and Recreation Services (ARS). As a service of ARS, Customized Workforce Solutions (CWS), provides adults with disabilities with customized opportunities and individualized supports to find and maintain employment.
The Vanguard School is an Approved Private School, which means it is a public entity that receives school district and state funds for students’ tuition. Students not referred by school districts can be admitted, but would need to private pay for their special education and related services.
Programs For Everyone
Tom Smith is the Assistant Director of Education at The Vanguard School. He has been an employee for 25 of the school’s 63 years. “We have over 200 staff serving 250 students. This extraordinarily low student-to-staff ratio allows us to create individualized education plans and curriculum, and provide one-on-one attention to all students. Each faculty member is 100% dedicated to helping the students to become as independent and functional in the community as possible.”
Students come from from eight different counties across PA, NJ, and DE, and have varying levels of abilities. “We try to keep students grouped by academic, cognitive, and social skills level,” explained Tom. What students learn from an academic perspective is akin to the curriculum at a typical public school – it follows education standards and graduation requirements, including math, reading, language arts, and social studies, as well as physical education and technology. It also offers a robust arts and music program. Students also enjoy participating in homecoming, school dances, school musicals and concerts, field day and student council, in addition to other extracurricular activities.
Daily Living Center & Job Preparedness
What sets The Vanguard School apart from other schools, though, is the attention paid to helping students thrive outside of the classroom. To prepare students for independent living, The Vanguard School offers a daily living skills curriculum in the campus’ simulated one-bedroom apartment, the Daily Living Center (DLC).
Other unique offerings include a horticulture program in which students grow vegetables to use in the culinary arts program and donate to a homeless shelter in Phoenixville. “Most important,” Tom says, “is the workforce development element of the school, which lasts beyond graduation. We have a pre-vocational/work center that teaches soft skills needed to obtain and keep a job, including vocational classes like culinary arts and building trades, such as construction, plumbing, landscaping, and horticulture.”
Students start putting their education into practice working on campus through the Work Orientation Readiness Center (WORC) by making copies for school departments, managing the phone directory and other clerical tasks. As they get older, students move into community-based education/vocational training by going off-campus at partner community worksites a couple of times a week. Some of those experiences have included: feeding and walking animals at the SPCA; acting as an exhibit guide at the Elmwood Park Zoo; and working in Eastern University’s dining center kitchen. Post high school, The Vanguard Transition Center takes what students, ages 18-21, learned on campus and put it into further practice, with school support. Some students who graduate also take classes at community college while in the transition program. Tom says, “We provide opportunities to students that they can’t get in the traditional public school system.”
Customized Workforce Solutions
For adults, including those with no affiliation to Vanguard, who need additional support after 21 years of age – and thereafter – continuing education and assistance is available through VFES’ employment service, Customized Workforce Solutions (CWS). This unique program includes assessments, skills training, job coaching, development and retention. What really sets it apart (and sets participants up for success) is that it pairs participants with individual employment specialists who secure employment opportunities in the communities where they live. Services are provided on an ongoing basis, if needed, or until participants are able to perform their jobs independently. Employment Specialists also help participants navigate workplace issues and challenges should they arise. CWS services are covered by OVR funding, Adult Autism Waivers, P/FDS waivers or private pay.
To schedule an in-person tour of The Vanguard School, contact Admissions at 610.296.6725 x128. To contact CWS, call 610.296.6725 x146. Please visit vfes.net for information about programs, services and events.