Grant Spotlight – Special Education

Fostering Community for Special Needs Students

“I constantly invite people to visit the club to see for themselves the level of creativity these kids truly have. Being the club’s sponsor and seeing this every week has been a privilege and a great joy.”
– –Tia Jones, Finding Purple Club Sponsor and Special Education Instructional Assistant

If you’re walking the halls of Winnetka after 4 p.m. on a Thursday, you might hear music and singing coming from the Transitions classroom and think there’s a party going on. That’s the Finding Purple Club having their weekly after-school crafting hangout. According to Tia Jones, Club Sponsor and Special Education Instructional Assistant, “The fun we create is contagious!”

Finding Purple offers the opportunity for students with special needs to spend time with their peers once a week and create seasonal crafts while socializing in a safe, fun environment.

“We keep it simple and leisurely but also meaningful,” points out Jones. “We want them to be able to proudly display their creations in their homes, share with friends and family, or send to a teacher.”

Kids in the Educational and Life Skills (ELS) program come together after school to hang out with peers that may or may not be in classes with them, work on their crafts, and most importantly socialize. Crafts can vary from drawing with color pencils to cutting paper and gluing leaves. Peer helpers assist with tasks that require fine motor skills like cutting certain shapes out of paper or drawing a straight line.

“It’s great how committed the peer helpers are to this program which shows in the amount of time they invest in planning, organizing, and taking part in the activities every week,” points out Jones. “They know these kids from their day-to-day school interaction, and to see them outside of the normal school hours gives them the opportunity to create a whole new level of interaction and a new learning experience with each other, while enjoying each other’s company.”

Jones and co-sponsor Maria Santos receive a lot of positive feedback from parents who’ve asked if the club can meet more often. “Thanks, Ms. Jones, for all the time, thought and sensitivity you put into the class and the logistics pertaining to it,” says Corinne Guarraia, Madeline’s mother. “My daughter loves your program.”

“Claire loved the club last year (and seeing Tia and Maria) and is very excited to join again,” confirms Julie Schrager, Claire’s mother. “We also love the new name of the club.”

Formerly known as Shout Out Loud, the club was renamed Finding Purple in honor of a student who recently passed away to carry on the legacy of what she contributed to the club, her presence, and her bright personality.

The Foundation is proud to provide a grant to the Finding Purple Club to purchase craft supplies and materials.

Support unique social opportunities for all our students at

Teachers Train to Help Students Socially Thrive

“As long as a teacher comes from a genuine place of caring and concern, it sets them
on the right track for communicating with the student and the parent.”
– Julie Smith, New Trier Speech-Language Pathologist

The New Trier Educational Foundation has provided funding support for teams of New Trier speech-language pathologists (SLP’s), psychologists, and social workers to attend multiple trainings in the area of Social Thinking® throughout the past four years.  Most recently, two faculty members were invited to speak at the Social Thinking Global Providers Conference in June 2016 about how they have applied their knowledge to develop programs at New Trier. Social Work Department Chair Tiffany Myers, and Speech-Language Pathologist Julie Ann Smith gave a presentation on how they have successfully developed a workshop to train general education teachers on social and emotional thinking.

Many young individuals develop social thinking and social skills without explicit teaching; however, there are a number of students who struggle to develop these skills through observation, and therefore run into challenges across social and academic situations.  “What might be perceived as a behavior problem may be caused by missing or undeveloped root skills such as reading another person’s body language, understanding the consequences of one’s actions and looking at things from someone else’s perspective,” says Smith. These foundation skills are necessary for sharing space effectively with others, learning to work as part of a team, and developing relationships.

In the past, the Foundation provided funding for social workers, SLP’s, and psychologists to attend a number of highly specialized conferences and workshops. “The training clinic we attended in May 2015 inspired us to submit a workshop proposal for the conference in San Francisco,” recalls Smith. “We were thrilled when it was approved last March!”

Kate Lakowski, school psychologist, Myers and Smith have been conducting two-day training workshops for New Trier teachers since 2013. Classes fill up quickly as they keep each workshop small with only 15-25 participants, primarily consisting of general education teachers. The workshops also attract special education teachers, social workers, psychologists and instructional assistants.

The training focuses on classroom implementation where teachers learn how to communicate with students using a framework of giving feedback that is concrete, specific and kind. Teachers help students connect their intention with the right actions so they can get the impact they want.

Myers and Smith taught over 100 professionals at the Social Thinking Global Provider’s Conference how to develop a successful teacher training program to support Social Thinking skills in the classroom. At the June conference, Pamela J. Crooke, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of Social Thinking Training & Speakers Collaborative, gave our New Trier faculty team positive feedback during their presentation when she commented to conference attendees: “This group is doing it right.”

Some teachers begin the program thinking they cannot communicate with a student at such a deep level. They also express concerns about how to talk to the parents of the students. “A teacher can create a good starting point for these interactions by coming from a genuine place of caring and concern,” says Smith. “It is fundamental to fostering a supportive and nurturing environment for learning.”


Special Ed Students Gain Life Skills Producing School Pride


Have you ever wondered who prints the t-shirts you see students and teachers wearing at choir competitions, dance rehearsals, science fairs and other student club activities? There is a unique story behind these and the t-shirts worn at New Trier athletic games that help the crowd cheer for our favorite teams.

ntef_tshirt_francescamaddock14michaelpalmer12Many of the club and intramural t-shirts you see around campus have been printed by our students in the Special Education program with guidance from their teachers. The New Trier Transition Program’s curriculum focuses on life and vocational skills. It provides a safe environment where students can practice and develop a variety of job skills within the New Trier community beginning in the classroom.

Having received a grant from the Educational Foundation in 2011, the Transition Program purchased its first t-shirt printing machine and launched the business. According to Kari Nakayama, Life Skills Program faculty, their first customers were New Trier student clubs, intramural sports and advisories. Eventually, they were approached by outside groups including schools and community organizations.

ntef_tshirt_-janemcdonald16jackcroley16ntef_tshirt_christianboyd16“We’ve printed t-shirts for Family Service of Lake County, a community organization located in Highland Park providing counseling and caregiver services for children, families and seniors,” says Nakayama. “I’m glad that we were able to work for and support a non-profit in the area.”

Students learn valuable work skills from various tasks including invoicing, counting shirts and folding. They receive training for creating ads, flyers and making presentations about the t-shirt business to groups interested in their services. In addition to t-shirts, they also fulfill orders for sweatshirts and sweatpants.

“For the 2015-2016 school year, we had 22 orders and made 1,045 t-shirts!” recalls Nakayama. “From October to December was our busiest time last year, although we stay busy throughout the year.”

So the next time you put on your favorite NT club or team shirt, think about the students in our Transition program who created it with pride, then pat yourself on the back and know you’re cheering for them as well. And, if your club or organization has a t-shirt need, contact Kari Nakayama at or and support the T-Shirt Printing Business in our Transition Program.



Read more impact stories:

Grants Spotlight 2018-2019

Grants Spotlight 2017-2018

Grants Spotlight 2016-2017

Grants Spotlight 2015-2016