The Centennial School, a special education day school, is affiliated with Lehigh University's College of Education. The Centennial School is located 10 minutes away from Lehigh's Asa Packer campus in Bethlehem. (Juan Rosas/ B&W Staff)

The Centennial School educates youth, Lehigh graduate students


Just 10 minutes away from its Asa Packer Campus, Lehigh University is affiliated with another school.

However, this is not another university, but rather a school providing elementary, middle and high school programs, known as The Centennial School.

Julie Fogt, the director of the Centennial School, said the full-time school educates children with exceptionalities such as emotional behavioral disorders and autism from across the Lehigh Valley. Fogt received her doctorate of education degree from Lehigh in educational leadership and administration.

“We work with students who need the most intensive support,” Fogt said. “The first part of our mission (is) to provide them high-quality education.”

A closer look inside Centennial

Caitlin Lyons, ‘14G, the middle school coordinator for Centennial School, said students who attend the school are usually in need of a smaller, more restricted academic setting. The school focuses on using positive behavioral support to best support Centennial students.

Lyons said the school has students who come from upward of 25 different school districts and span a wide range of ages.

According to the Centennial School’s website, the elementary school includes instruction for students from kindergarten to fifth grade with a minimum age entry of 6, the middle school ranges from sixth grade to eighth grade, and the high school consists of students from ninth to 12th grade with a maximum age of 21.

Many of these students, Lyons said, attend Centennial School at the recommendation of their original school districts and individualized education program teams if they believe a student’s needs are not being met or they could receive more support elsewhere.

“The goal is to have students come for a period of time and show us that they are making improvements,” Lyons said. “It is not meant to be a permanent placement, although sometimes it can turn into students staying until graduation if the team feels like that is the best fit for the student.”

A typical school day for the middle and high school program follows a bell schedule, Lyons said, with students arriving at 7:45 a.m. and rotating through classes. Each student is taught at their instructional level based on their individualized education programs, ongoing assessment data and the Pennsylvania Common Core standards, according to the school’s website.

Lyons said the students also work on social skills throughout the day, where teachers provide feedback on their behavior.

Lehigh student involvement

Although the school’s primary focus is on working with high-needs students, Fogt said the Centennial School also offers several hands-on experiences for Lehigh students to become involved.

One of these opportunities is through the Office of Creative Inquiry’s Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship which has a project based in supporting the Centennial School.

According to the Office of Creative Inquiry, the new project titled “Open Doors to the Arts” was created to improve accessibility to the arts for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

To attempt catering to Centennial students’ needs, the project team created 360-degree and 3D-projected immersive tours of arts-based and community-centered places in the Lehigh Valley. The tours allow students to virtually attend locations they otherwise might not be able to, such as the Roxy Theater, Da Vinci Science Center, Banana Factory, Allentown Art Museum, and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whisky Bar.

The tours were created using Matterport cameras that capture 360-degree footage. Fogt, who helped conceptualize the project, said project members were trained to create videos — using cameras that capture 360-degree footage — that would be highly engaging, jargon-free and direct.

“What we’re doing is leading the way for technology for students with disabilities precluding them from being successful in these live environments, with the hope that they will feel more comfortable,” Fogt said.

These tours can be viewed in the Centennial School’s Immersive Learning Center, a classroom that contains 270-degree screens to allow for interactive virtual reality content. Videos highlighting specific pieces of art are presented within the interactive museum tours, accessible when clicking on the red icons placed near them.

These tours are also uploaded to the project’s website for free public access and are being projected in the Lehigh University Art Galleries until Dec. 9.

Graduate degree programs

Lehigh’s College of Education partners with the Centennial School across a variety of master’s programs, including degrees and certificates in special education.

Minyi Dennis, the director of the special education program, said master’s level students can work as teacher associates at the Centennial School, where they are paid a yearly stipend and have their Lehigh tuition paid for by Centennial during the duration of the program.

This experience, Fogt said, is a two- to three-year program where teacher associates receive supervision and mentoring from experienced Centennial School staff.

Fogt said participating master’s students are trained for about six days before the school year starts at Centennial. They participate in a two-part program that involves evening classes and then working directly with Centennial School students during the day, where they are paired with a veteran teacher.
Fogt said students in this program are able to learn about lesson design, behavioral strategies, data analysis, collaborating with families and classroom management.

“The partnership is very valuable to our students,” Dennis said, “They take courses with us to learn the research, how to be a good customer of research, and how to use these research or evidence-based strategies in their classrooms.”

She said this structure allows for a gradual release of responsibility until teacher associates are comfortable enough to take over more lessons.

Three weeks into classes, Fogt said someone new to the program could find difficulty differentiating between the veteran teacher and their teacher associate.

“That’s how quickly they can learn how to have that really active role in the classroom,” Fogt said.

Joshua Reznik, a teacher associate at the Centennial School, is currently completing a dual certification at Lehigh for K-12 special education and secondary education for seventh through 12th grade.

Reznik said working with the Centennial School has been a rewarding experience.

“I’m able to… have that practical application has been incredibly helpful in preparing me for whatever I do after graduation.”

According to the Centennial School’s website, of the Lehigh graduate students who have worked with the Centennial School in the last 15 years, all of them have found employment after graduation.

“I hear from school districts all the time looking to hire people that we train at the school because they know they’re getting someone that’s highly skilled, highly trained and is going to be an amazing addition to their faculty,” Fogt said.

Lyons said she participated in the education college’s Centennial program before graduating from Lehigh and securing her 17-year-long position at the Centennial School.

“Working at the school has changed the lives of the teacher trainees because they learn positive approaches to working with others,” Fogt said. “And that’s invaluable.”

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