New York Local Helps to Spearhead ASD Program


The Nest program, which supports students living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), is growing steadily in New York schools. Until recently this program was available only to elementary students, but now in response to demands from parents and educators, the program is gaining ground for students continuing to higher grades.

Jessica Jackson, assistant principal of Staten Island’s Paulo Intermediate School and a member of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA), AFSA Local 1, was one of the first school leaders to implement this program at a middle school.

The Nest program was started in September 2003 by New York’s Department of Education as an inclusive program for higher-functioning children with ASD at Samuel Mills Sprole in Brooklyn. The first program had nine children. Today there are 21 elementary school programs available, two middle school programs, including Paulo Intermediate, and one high school program in Queens serving a total of roughly 400 children.

The process of implementing the program into Paulo Intermediate School began in the spring of 2010, when parents from Maurice Wollen Elementary School wanted their children to have the opportunity to continue the Nest program as they moved forward into middle school.

“They (the parents) were very involved in selecting this school for the Nest Program,” said Jackson. “Paulo Intermediate School, which was already recognized for its special ed program, was the parents’ top choice.” After much hard work and dedication from parents, the Nest program was approved for Paulo Intermediate school by Mark Cannizzaro, CSA executive vice president and a member of the New York City Board of Education. That summer, teachers began training, and from there, the program took off.

“We were excited to embrace the challenges of creating this program,” said Jackson. “We had to think about how we were going to take on this program and effectively train our teachers.”

The program places five Nest program students in a class with 20 general education students and provides teachers with summer training and ongoing professional development for how to implement the program successfully.

“Students in the program learn skills necessary to function socially, academically and behaviorally,” Jackson said in a January interview with the Staten Island Advance. “We started this program three years ago, and it’s been amazing to me to watch how far these students have come.”

“Students with autism now have the opportunity to express themselves and say, this is who we are and we are proud of who we are,” Jackson said.