Success is measured differently at the North Florida School of Special Education.
For one student it may be landing a job. For another, it may be the sale of a piece of art. For another, it may be happily functioning in a world that once seemed so intimidating.
The mission statement for the school is "to discover and foster each student's unique abilities revealing their highest potential within an engaged community."
In short, North Florida School of Special Education is dedicated to improving the lives of each of its students.
"We celebrate success every day. Success can be measured in so many ways," said Sally Hazelip, head of school. "Our students have mild-to-moderate intellectual differences. We focus on academics. We focus on social skills. We run the full gamut, including physical therapy. There is a wide variety of what we offer and it starts with creating a realistic goal for their success."
The school opened in 1992 as the response of a group of parents who recognized the need for better educational opportunities for their three children with intellectual and developmental differences. These parents dreamt of a learning environment where children who traveled a different developmental path were educated, nurtured and equipped with the life skills to become contributing members of their community.
NFSSE became accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools in 2014 and it continued to grow, with enrollment sitting at 185 students and post-graduates for the current school year.
Programs provided at NFSSE include academics, social skills instruction, speech, language, occupational and physical therapies, vocational training, adaptive physical education, independent living instruction, job placement services, horticulture and culinary arts, music and art.
NFSSE uses the Unique Learning System, a standards-based dynamic learning program that targets the individualized needs of each student.
Some post-graduates have returned to work at the academy or at one of its micro enterprises, Berry Good Farms.
The three-acre farm provides a self-sustaining industry for students and graduates encompassing education, hands-on experience, and compensated employment. Transition students and post-graduates will be trained in the field of horticulture, culinary arts and the production of agricultural goods.
Another of NFSSE's micro enterprises is Barkin' Biscuits. All-natural dog treats are manufactured and sold by students, ranging in age from 18 to 40.
"Our students are learning," Hazelip said. "They learn to read. We have students who participate in the Special Olympics. There's an incredible art program. We've been able to find students who truly are artists.
"Things are measured very differently here. We strive to help each student become the best version of themselves. They're a person first, and that helps put perspective into it."