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  • Writer's pictureAdam Dayan, Esq.

Curious Incident Podcast Episode 5: Transitioning From High School

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

You can listen to our discussion on your favorite podcast player. Below is a summary of the podcast along with the entire podcast transcript.

The Curious Incident Podcast: Episode 5: Transitioning From High School

You can also listen to the podcast here;

About this episode:

NYC Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan sits down with John Civita, Head of School at @WinstonTransitions, part of the @WinstonPreparatorySchool network for students with learning differences. They discuss how to prepare for a student’s transition from high school and what types of programs are available to high school students who are not yet ready to transition to college or work and need to continue building academic skills while developing life and work skills.

If you have questions about special needs children and their education that were not covered in the podcast or need guidance about how you should move forward, please contact the Law Office of Adam Dayan, PLLC at 646-866-7157 to discuss your particular circumstances.

About the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC

Adam Dayan Esq. is a New York special needs attorney. Established in 2009, the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC has the primary purpose of making sure children with special needs receive a quality education and long-term financial security.


Transcript - Episode 5, Transitioning From High School

Speaker 1 (00:00:06):

This is Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families and your window into the world of special education. Parenting can be challenging and we want to make it easier by providing you with the resources you need to best help your child. Let's delve deep into the world of special education with your host, Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan (00:00:33):

I am very happy to present my next guest on this podcast, John Civita. John is head of school at Winston Transitions, a private school in New York City that provides an extension program for high school students who are not yet ready to transition to college or work and need to continue building academic skills while developing life and work skills. John has served in this role for the last 11 plus years. Prior to that, he was a teacher for seven years. John has a bachelor of arts degree in studio art and a master's of science degree in special education and general education. John, it's great to be with you here today.

John Civita (00:01:11):

Thanks at me.

Adam Dayan (00:01:12):

Pleasure to have you. So first, tell me a little bit more about you. What makes your approach or outlook unique given your particular background, skills and experiences?

John Civita (00:01:25):

So it was a long journey to get to this point. I'm a parent as well. I think that's always important to identify as, meaning I have three kids, two of which that have some learning challenges. One of my sons who is now heading towards 19 has a twin brother, has some learning challenges as well. He was at Winston Prep for high school and is currently in my program at Transitions and leaving that program at the end of this year to go off to college. So obviously I see that as a unique position to be in as an educator, being the head of the program, obviously being the head of the program and having my child in the program is always a unique position to be in for anyone.

But I think for me, when I'm talking with families, it provides me with that unique perspective to understand what they've gone through in relationship to identifying what might be needed for their child, same way that my wife and I had to identify that for our son and for our daughter as well, making sure that we had her in the right educational environment in private school, in New York City to support her needs, having dyslexia.

So I think, again, sharing that with families has always proven to be very valuable. I didn't have a great track record myself in school growing up. So always thinking about when I got into education, I always wanted to think about what I could do differently and how I could provide anyone that has any struggles in an academic environment, something different in relationship to tapping into strengths and understanding their own journey and making that happen in a successful way.

Adam Dayan (00:02:59):

So you're fully invested. I mean, you've been doing this head of school position for really a long time. You have a child or children who have had their own educational challenges. And you said you yourself as a child struggled in some ways educationally.

John Civita (00:03:15):

Yep. Exactly.

Adam Dayan (00:03:18):

Do you want to talk a little bit about what your personal educational challenges were or what that was like growing up?

John Civita (00:03:24):

Yeah. So much later on in life, I was diagnosed with dyscalculia or dyscalculia. It's not a very well known learning challenge at this point, there's not a lot of research or information around it. More is coming out, but it's a math specific learning disability, meaning it's somewhat, I guess, one way to describe it, is somewhat like dyslexia with numbers. Monthly process steps can be really challenging. So that was something that I always struggled with as a kid. It impacted other areas of my learning as well. So as I was going through school, elementary school, high school, clearly I was positioned in classes that were not up to par with my peers, even though from a social perspective, intellectual perspective overall, I was certainly well adept at navigating all those situations. But school was a challenge and certainly impacted my confidence. It impacted my perspective on the world and what I might be capable of doing.

So again, it was overcoming that, getting a diagnosis I think is incredibly valuable. I got it later in life, but it opened up a world of opportunities for me, especially in higher education and allowed me to really identify with where my areas of strength were. And I was able to exceed in every other area of learning, other than math.

So again, looking at it from that perspective and thinking about how not only to compensate, which I've done, I remember I guess, a little unique story, when I was a teenager and I was delivering Chinese food and I used to drive around in my car with a calculator. And this was way before cell phones, so that's aging myself, but it's way before cell phones. I used to drive around with a calculator. And before I would get to the door to bring the food to the person, I would make sure that I knew how much change I had to get back and if I was going to get ripped off for a tip or not, so I would have all that laid out before I actually got out of the car and went to the door. So it was little tricks like that that I taught myself to overcome some of these challenges.

Adam Dayan (00:05:22):

Right. Having dealt with those issues, what's it like for you being the parent of children who have learning challenges?

John Civita (00:05:28):

Well, it's made me incredibly empathetic. So understanding what they're going through may be different. My son does have dyscalculia, also some other challenges from an executive functioning standpoint, nonverbal learning disability standpoint. So understanding social pragmatics could be really challenging for him. So I think, again, my experience was very different, but looking at my own personal experiences and connecting that to what he's going through and what my daughter is going through, I think was a unique again, perspective. And my wife who didn't have any learning challenges growing up, helping her understand too, that there are things that can work given the right environment and the right strategies and the right approach or the ability to connect, as I did with what that means in your life and how to make adjustments and do something different with that too.

Adam Dayan (00:06:17):


John Civita (00:06:17):

Yeah. I think that was important.

Adam Dayan (00:06:17):


John Civita (00:06:20):

And be patient.

Adam Dayan (00:06:21):

Oh, yeah. Patience is key.

John Civita (00:06:24):


Adam Dayan (00:06:24):

Okay. What kinds of students do you serve at Winston Transitions?

John Civita (00:06:28):

A wide range. We work primarily with students with nonverbal processing language processing and the overlapping of those domains from a neuropsychological paradigm with executive functioning, probably about 98% of our students are struggling with executive functioning difficulties.

Adam Dayan (00:06:46):

Okay. You said nonverbal processing, can you clarify for our listeners what that means?

John Civita (00:06:50):

So the struggle of understanding nonverbal language, nonverbal cues, social pragmatics, facial expressions, body language, sarcasm, things of that nature could be really challenging for the large majority of our kids. And again, there is a real connection. So NVLD as a diagnosis, doesn't exist in the DSM-V. So it's not a diagnosis that you're going to be able to fully recognize, it might not even show up on an evaluation. But looking at the composite scores, the subtest scores will start to indicate areas of challenge that will reflect those difficulties. And again, helping students identify with that is a big part of what we do in our program, learning specific strategies to support that is a big part of our program. So the social emotional piece around it, in addition to obviously academic skill development and employability skill development, I'm sure we'll get to that later, again, is all a big part of that. And then the executive functioning piece is connected to NVLD as a learning challenge. Most often individuals that have NVLD or nonverbal learning differences have executive functioning difficulties.

Adam Dayan (00:08:02):

Okay. And we've talked about executive functioning on previous episodes, but for those who are first tuning in, we're talking about attention, memory, processing speed, focusing, things of that nature, correct?

John Civita (00:08:16):

Organization of information, time management can be incredibly impacted by executive functioning difficulty. Social decision making can be incredibly impacted by executive functioning difficulties. So again, seeing that correlation between certain diagnosis like ADHD, executive functioning is very much attached to that. Impulsivity can be a part of having executive functioning challenges. So being able to make those clear decisions in that moment, as you said a moment ago, processing speed can certainly impact someone's ability to make clear direct decisions in a timely way so that they can be effective.

Adam Dayan (00:08:52):


John Civita (00:08:53):

And sustainable.

Adam Dayan (00:08:54):

Right. And what age group do you serve at Winston Transitions?

John Civita (00:08:58):

Typically 17 to 21.

Adam Dayan (00:08:59):


John Civita (00:09:00):


Adam Dayan (00:09:00):

And in terms of functioning levels, as a legal practitioner, I often think of functioning levels in terms of reading, writing math, where are students functioning compared to where they are expected to be functioning by grade level or age level or something along those lines. So the students who attend Winston Transitions are functioning on what levels or how far are they behind in those areas typically?

John Civita (00:09:26):

It varies. We have students coming into the program that could be on a third to fifth grade level, sometimes even a little below. We also have students coming into the program that could be in on grade point, but are struggling tremendously with executive functioning. Anxiety is another factor involved in somebody's ability to make progress in their life. So it really does vary. And then anything in between really. There's not a clear marker necessarily for who is the right fit for our program or actually let me reverse that. It's, there's not a clear marker for who our program might serve the best, if that makes sense. Right. We really look at it from a perspective of we're creating a program, very individualized for students. So when we're taking a student through the admissions process, we want to make certain that we can serve their needs.

Adam Dayan (00:10:18):


John Civita (00:10:18):

From a really individualized perspective. So nothing that we do is blanketed. So everything is very much designed in relationship to our deep understanding of what a student needs and how we can support that in all areas of their life, not just academics. So we're looking at the academic piece, we're looking at the social emotional piece, and then ultimately we're looking at the employability piece.

Adam Dayan (00:10:39):


John Civita (00:10:39):

Because that's incredibly important.

Adam Dayan (00:10:42):

Absolutely. And I think there's a lot to unpack there and I think we'll do so throughout the course of this conversation. So how do you serve your students?

John Civita (00:10:51):

Again, it's through academic, growth and development, through that real deep individualization, where I think the really important piece, the underpinning of everything we do is that social, emotional piece. At this age range, not limited to this age range, but at this age range, students are really struggling with what the next phase of their life is going to look like. They're not really clear by any means or not realistic necessarily about what the next steps are going to look like. So it's taking them through this process and we're incredibly process oriented. We're taking them through a process of discovery. We're taking them through a process of self-awareness, so that they can then develop a language and understanding so that they can go out into the world and clearly state to the people around them, whether it's in higher education, whether it's in a relationship or it's in the realm of employment, they can state very clearly and advocate for themselves very clearly around what they need to be successful.

Adam Dayan (00:12:03):


John Civita (00:12:03):

That's one of our ultimate goals. So awareness, whether a student is coming into our program and they're seeking a high school diploma, and we can talk a little bit more about that as well.

Adam Dayan (00:12:11):

I'm sure we will.

John Civita (00:12:12):

Or they're preparing for a college that they have a deferment to, or a college that's on their radar for the next step in their life, or they're planning for a more vocational track or direct to employment, the awareness piece is paramount. That's what we have to always be looking at. All the skill development along the way is going to address very specific needs, but ultimately we want to make certain that our students are leaving, not just with a high school diploma, not with an acceptance letter to a college, but that they're leaving with awareness.

Adam Dayan (00:12:46):

So I agree, those are very important skills. Self-awareness, self advocacy, how do you promote the development of those skills?

John Civita (00:12:52):

So we have, what we've created, it's called the qualities of a sustainable independent learner. And that was created along with Winston Prep and the National School Climate Center. So it's a qualitative approach. It's a scientifically driven approach. We looked at our lives over time study through our innovation lab, developed based on our research of students that have gone through Winston Preparatory School programming, we've looked at the national data and developed these eight factors of success. So resiliency, social responsibility, self-advocacy, self-reflection, self-regulation, social communication skills or communication skills in general, problem solving, management and organization.

Adam Dayan (00:13:33):

Which meanwhile, are critical for any person, whether they have learning challenges or not, correct?

John Civita (00:13:39):

Yes. For all of us. Absolutely. Oftentimes when we're meeting with parents or we're meeting with potential internship providers, everyone says the same thing, I wish I would've had more of a direct explicit approach to these types of skills while I was in school, as opposed to going through a more traditional framework. So it's things that, yes, absolutely, that we should all be practicing on a daily basis. They're not always easy to maintain. So that maintenance part of it is something that we work with our students on a lot. Nobody's ever looking for perfection. So we're always looking with our students through a lens rather of how can we sustain, how can we maintain the goals that we're trying to achieve? The skills that we're developing and use them in a really practical, functional way in our lives.

Adam Dayan (00:14:35):

That's great.

Speaker 1 (00:14:35):

You're listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families with your host, Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan (00:14:48):

On the subject of academic skills, we've spoken about the practical application approach at Winston Transitions. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

John Civita (00:14:58):

So when we're looking at our curriculum development, again, we're not looking at a very traditional framework. We're creating coursework, that's going to address the needs of our students moving into adulthood. So of course, like professional studies, which is working around skill development from communication in the workplace, interview skills, resume writing, cover letter writing, identifying potential career opportunities. We've gone into the exploration and projects around entrepreneurship and business enterprise and things like that. So again, thinking at it from a very practical. We are very project based, again, not direct instruction, we're more a facilitation model. So our teachers are team members, even in a class if there's eight to 10 students in a class, the teachers are walking around the room after they've introduced a project or a task they're then looking for the needs from each student and addressing those needs as they're moving through the space. And then they could spend five to 10 minutes with each student. They could have meetings with students outside of class.

And we also have our focus program as well, which for us supports, it's not so much at transitions about supporting the academic piece, but it's largely about supporting the social emotional piece and the executive functioning piece, which does connect to the academic piece ultimately. So that's a big part of it as well.

So there's the, in our ELA, in our language arts or our literacy class, it's very, self-driven. I think whenever you're working with somebody, who's potentially a reluctant reader, choice is incredibly important, providing students with choice and allowing them to connect more deeply with the work that they're doing has been really beneficial for growth and development of our students as long time or learners for life rather, is probably a better way of saying it.

Adam Dayan (00:16:45):


John Civita (00:16:46):

And that's really what we are, when we think about it. We don't really ever stop learning. So we want to make certain that our kids are connecting with that on a very different level. And we don't focus on grades in the program. So we're really focusing exclusively on, almost exclusively on feedback and the importance of feedback, how feedback impacts our students' growth and development from an academic perspective, which is incredibly important in college, you have to advocate for feedback. Feedback is beyond valuable in the workplace. And I think what we've learned over the years is that most people, unfortunately really don't know how to give feedback. Sometimes it's, "John, you did a great job," and you're on your way. And they don't really ever break down what was so great about the job that I did. What specifically did I do that was great, or what did I do that didn't work so well?

So helping our students understand that not only from an academic perspective, but from an employment perspective and even in relationships. How important is it being in a relationship with somebody, whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship to be able to get feedback-

Adam Dayan (00:17:51):

Oh, yeah.

John Civita (00:17:51):

... on how you're performing in that relationship, how you are responding to someone's needs. So again, it's all the things that we look at as adults, the complexities of adulthood, none of it is easy. I think, our heads spin, I know mine does on a daily basis on all the things that we have to try to accomplish. So we really are working with our kids to connect with that. So it's not compartmentalized, by any means. It's not just the academic piece, it's not just the social emotional piece, it's not just the thinking about my future as a potential employee somewhere. It's how does that all connect? And the fluidity of that on a daily basis, on a minute to minute basis is a big part of what we do and wildly overwhelming at times.

Adam Dayan (00:18:36):

That's fantastic. And as I'm listening to everything you're saying, I have all kinds of feedback from my wife playing in my brain.

John Civita (00:18:42):

Well, be careful.

Adam Dayan (00:18:45):

Yeah. Right. But you're right, I mean, feedback is very important and I like what you said, learners for life doesn't stop at graduation. And I think that's an important nugget to keep in mind. Is there anything else in terms of social and emotional growth and development or employment or employability skills that you haven't mentioned already that you'd like to mention?

John Civita (00:19:05):

So social, emotional, no, I speak about that a lot. Our focus program, our one-to-one programming, which is very unique to Winston Prep, it's every student at Winston Prep proper has a one-to-one focus teacher for 45 minutes every day. We do it a little different at Transitions. Our focus team meets with our students regularly. It's not a dedicated period every day. They are meeting with our students either two to three times a week. If a student is taking a college coursework and I'll talk more about that, then they potentially will meet three times a week, or maybe more depending for shorter sessions around executive functioning strategies.

But our focus team primarily is made up of mental health professionals. We're not a therapeutic environment. Our goal is not to provide therapy or replace therapy. Oftentimes we will recommend if students really need that aspect of development in their lives, and there's some real significant issues in regards to their social, emotional, or mental health, then obviously we're going to recommend that students are seeing outside professionals to really more comprehensively address those needs. But we are certainly adept at providing cognitive behavioral therapy strategies. Our focus program is headed up by Jeremy Antar, who's a very talented clinical social worker and he heads that team up and guides them through that process. And then our team is comprised of, as I said, mental health professionals, social workers, guidance counselors, our therapists, things of that nature to again, make certain that we're addressing these needs in a more practical way though, I think. Going back to that practicality piece.

Adam Dayan (00:20:35):


John Civita (00:20:35):

How does it connect to our everyday lives as learners, as people in relationships and as employees out in the world of work. Again, all equally important and interrelated.

Adam Dayan (00:20:47):

Great. John, what does the concept of a gap year mean to you?

John Civita (00:20:50):

That's an interesting question. I've never really identified with this program as a gap year. So I think if you're doing a Google search to look for Transitions and you put in gap year, you might not find what you're looking for necessarily. And most people don't really know what they're looking for in relationship to our program. We're a unicorn out in the world. There's not many programs that I know of here, at least here in New York City and across the country that exist that are doing the work that we're doing for the wide range of learning profiles that we're serving. So I think historically transition programs, we're and still are largely designed for individuals with intellectual impairments or more severe intellectual impairments, potentially. Again, we're bursting the bubble a little bit of that.

So gap year, when I think of gap year, I think of a travel program, perhaps. I think of maybe a multi-tiered experience around a workplace scenario, like an internship. We're doing a lot more than that. And our program isn't just one year, necessarily. Most of our students will do two years in the program. There's no hard rule around that. And we don't usually identify that through admissions necessarily. Sometimes families will come in or we'll know, based on a student's profile, that they're going to need more time. Or families will come in and say, "I know my kid needs to be here for at least two years," or three years, depending on their age.

But as we're going through our process, and again, as I said before, we're very process oriented. So everything that we do is about identifying needs as we're going through this process. So making a determination on somebody's readiness before they even started the program, doesn't make sense to me. It's about learning with that person and about that person going through this process and figuring out what they're going to need along with them. And ideally we're bringing the students into the conversation, that's our goal. We're bringing them into the conversation of their lives and giving them a seat at the table so that they can start to make decisions about the things that are happening in their lives and not being passive. I think that's really important.

Adam Dayan (00:22:51):

And what I'm hearing you say is that it's not a cookie cutter approach, it's tailored to the individual needs of the student in front of you and the student has a voice. And what the student wants or is interested in or passionate about, seems like plays a role in your decision-making.

John Civita (00:23:09):

Very much so. Yeah. As we're going through the admissions process, obviously gaining information from neuropsych evaluations, IEPs, things of that nature, talking to the families, incredibly invaluable, but meeting the student, starting to work with the student is when we really uncover who they are and what their needs are. And oftentimes we do uncover or have to rebuild from things that maybe were never addressed in their lives or weren't addressed properly. And that can take time.

Adam Dayan (00:23:40):


John Civita (00:23:41):

So through that first year is when we really start to discover this is where the holes are. This is where there is a real need for growth and development, a specific area, and taking that time and identifying that an additional year or two potentially, is needed. But again, not identifying that immediately is always our approach.

Adam Dayan (00:24:04):

Understood. How would you define transition planning? What do you think transition planning should consist of?

John Civita (00:24:12):

Thinking about your child's future, thinking about what they might be ready for. I think transition planning, first and foremost should happen as early as possible. It doesn't mean that a student needs to stay on that trajectory for their entire academic career or lifespan in academics. If you identify as early as 14 and somewhere along the way your child makes some leaps and bounds and presented with skills that are representative of being ready, then certainly the conversation can change. But what that provides our families with, when families are looking at the potential for their child to need more time, it's really important that they're developing, again, that I keep using the term language, but it's really important that they're developing this language that's being used around their child, so that the assessment piece of that, the identification of that throughout their child's academic process is documented and well documented. And then really can support the need for that if it comes to that.

Most often, I think if there are real significant concerns about somebody's readiness, having that plan in place, making certain that a level of independence is going to be reached, again, thinking about all the skills that I identified and the qualities of a sustainable and independent learner should be functional. And there should be an awareness and utilization around those skills. Identifying if college is on the horizon for a student, or if a student is really hard pressed to make that their next step in life, identifying the right college for them. And that's something that we focus on in our program as well.

Adam Dayan (00:25:46):

I understand that 14 years old would be ideal for families to start thinking about transition planning, but what do you usually see, when do families typically come to you?

John Civita (00:25:57):

Typically in high school, but sometimes too late. Where they're coming to us in the 11th hour, and some of this is connected to the funding aspect of this. And I think we'll get into that at some point, certainly, but I think the important piece of it is if you are bringing this idea to your child, as they're a senior in high school, and you're saying, "You're not going to graduate, or you're not going to go to college like so many of your peers and we're instead choosing to send you to Winston Transitions," or any other somewhat similar program, that can be a really hard pill to swallow for that teenager. And it can make it really challenging to get the buy-in that's incredibly important for this process to make sense for them. So that they're getting the most out of it.

Now, if somebody comes in without 100% buy-in, does that mean we can't work with them? No, we certainly can. It just means that we have to do the heavy lifting in the very beginning to get them to understand the purpose of the program and that can take some time. But I think having conversations and doing your research, looking into programs, whatever those programs may be and having that conversation with your child much earlier is always beneficial.

Adam Dayan (00:27:14):

So I think you answered my next question, which was going to be 14 years old may sound to some parents very early, and their children are first starting high school, let's say, and they just started that new stage of education. And so to start thinking about transition planning for after high school from 14 years old may seem very soon. So what should they be thinking about? What should they be doing? I heard you say conducting research, presenting the topic to their child to get the conversations started, get that buy-in. Is there anything else that our listeners, who let's say have 13 year old, 14 year old children, and they're thinking that they're not going to be on the, let's call it typical trajectory, even though I don't really want to say typical, what else should they be thinking about?

John Civita (00:28:03):

The legal aspect of it, speaking to a special education attorney like yourself and getting a sense of what that landscape might look like for them and what opportunities might exist from a financial perspective. So IDEA or FAPE.

Adam Dayan (00:28:19):

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and free appropriate public education.

John Civita (00:28:24):

Exactly. Is a law that provides your child with a fair and appropriate education till the age of 21.

Adam Dayan (00:28:33):

Hey, isn't that my job?

John Civita (00:28:36):

That's your job. And you can step in anytime you like, Adam. So what most people don't realize, and I actually was just on an open house earlier this morning, where a parent said that they have been in the special education system since the age of two and up until last year were provided with the information that once your child is awarded a high school diploma, that fair and appropriate education no longer exists. And that's a piece that really needs to be brought to the surface of awareness for our families, that just because that law exists doesn't mean that it's always applicable to everyone and not everybody understands how to activate that law in a really successful way.

And the other reason why, coming to this realization sooner than later, really provides our families with that opportunity, again, that awareness, that understanding, reaching out to a special education attorney, if they're not already in the practice of utilizing one already can open up that window of knowledge and resources that might not exist to them or that they're aware could exist to them. And the idea that someone, just because they went through a high school curriculum, earned their credits, does not mean readiness for life by any means. And actually, and you can correct me if I'm wrong on this, but from my understanding and my reading of IDEA, I have never seen anything in there that talks about credit acquisition as a readiness or marker for next steps being applicable to someone.

Adam Dayan (00:30:13):

No, actually the language in IDEA is about being independent and productive members of society. And so I'm agreeing with you, it makes no sense if a student lacks those skills to be independent and productive and function in the world, to just issue a diploma and say, "Hey, you're done with your eligibility. You're not covered anymore."

John Civita (00:30:38):

And here in New York City, what's pretty exclusively looked at or viewed as that readiness, that marker is credit acquisition. And saying, "Okay, well, your child, they completed 12th grade, that's it, they're ready to move on." Which has no bearing on their readiness, as we just said. So finding that avenue, making sure that you understand that language, making sure that you understand your rights, again, is where you come in and supporting families to that level of awareness and understanding, that's what helps our kids get what they need and make a program like ours, or any other program for that matter. We're not the panacea. I think what we do is incredibly unique, as I said before, I do consider us a unicorn of sorts out in the world of special education, especially in the high, in the adult, 17 to 21 range for sure.

But it's complicated. And oftentimes what we see in regards to that is students coming to us sooner than completing high school. So we have a little bit of a hybrid happening in our program over the past few years, where there are a lot of students that are technically still in high school. And I say technically, because we don't focus on grades, we don't focus on grade level. If a student comes to us and they're a junior in high school and they're 17 years old and we can serve and support them in a really successful way, and maybe our program, most often our program is really providing them with a more appropriate approach to getting them ready for whatever the next steps of their life is going to look like.

So it's not really about sitting through a more sequential course load, and it's more about that practicality. It's more about connecting with this deeper understanding again. I know I say that a lot. But that awareness and understanding is paramount to all of this for our children and our families. It's really about that. It's about our kids developing these skills, the skills that are part of the qualities of a sustainable and an independent learner, and then some. All the nuances of things that are happening around our kids and that they're trying to navigate, but really struggling with.

Adam Dayan (00:32:51):

Right. I think we're going to get deeper into a lot of this stuff. I just want to say real quick, I agree with what you said about education and awareness. I think that's key, that's paramount. And I really hope that this podcast helps to spread awareness for people who are out there trying to get the information they need to make good decisions.

Speaker 1 (00:33:12):

You're listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families with your host, Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan (00:33:20):

John, when the student's in high school, what are some signs that parents or the students themselves should be looking for that they might need a transition program?

John Civita (00:33:31):

A lot of it can be connected to social readiness, making decisions as I said before, that executive functioning piece, being able to make really good decisions around things that are happening, anxiety. Anxiety's real. And I think we're seeing a whole lot of anxiety popping up in young adults and teenagers with everything that's going on around us with the pandemic and everything that's happening in the world. But even before that, anxiety was prevalent, a lot of it. And helping students manage that. So looking at that again, and anxiety doesn't always come up as a deterrent or something that might be talked about in a more traditional environment. And in some cases might be pushed aside for a student so that they can continue on with their sequential learning and coursework and pass the test that they have to pass or the Regents or whatever it might be. And then what happens at the end of that, is that they're left still with somebody who's struggling tremendously with some emotional regulation, that was never addressed, but has to be addressed.

Adam Dayan (00:34:37):


John Civita (00:34:38):

So those are things. I mean, again, I want to steer away from the idea of looking at someone who's missing a whole host of credits, because it's not really about that. It's more about their overall social, emotional readiness for the next phases of their life. Just because somebody says they want to go to college doesn't mean they're ready to go to college and not even quite sure at what point in time the idea that somebody at 17 years old or 18 years old is really ready to go out into the world on their own. I think about my own kids, whether neurotypical or not, and myself for that matter, entering college at that age and finding it a little challenging to make it successful initially. So there's a lot of different things. It's probably not one clear answer to that question, Adam, but there's a lot of factors that can play into it. And I think they're always very unique to each individual student.

Adam Dayan (00:35:28):

Sure. So we've spent some time talking about what transition planning should look like. I want to hear from you, what does it normally look like with the New York City Department of Education from your perspective? I have my own viewpoints on this subject, on this question, but I'm curious to hear from you, what does transition planning typically look like with the New York City Department of Education?

John Civita (00:35:52):

So it takes shape as an IEP, typically. So at an IEP meeting the team from the department of education will outline specific goals that they think a student should be meeting. Again, they can be connected to social growth and development, more practical in relationship to academics and things like that. But typically what I've seen in regards to transition planning, there is never really anything that's going to support that, currently within the department of education. So most often when we're going through an IEP with a family and a student and a student identifies as needing more time, they're typically suggesting that that student continues on in a high school education process, even though they're identifying some goals and things that are connected to transition planning, but they don't really have a placement for them to go. So all these goals aren't going to be addressed because they're just going to go back into, again, a more sequential learning environment without really having the opportunity to look at the social-emotional piece, look at the independent living skill development that might be associated with a transition plan and employability, skill building, things of that nature.

Adam Dayan (00:37:09):

And you have some students coming to your school from outside New York City as well?

John Civita (00:37:13):


Adam Dayan (00:37:14):

And so I'm assuming that you've dealt with other school districts besides New York City. Do you notice a difference in how school districts outside New York City handle transition planning compared to NYC?

John Civita (00:37:25):

Yeah, there can be some differences. About 60, some odd percent of our kids are going to come from outside of Winston Prep. So we certainly see a lot of that. In some cases, there are suburban districts that might work out some negotiation with a family around a contract where they will sign off on X number of years, one or two years for that child to participate in an out of district placement, if they don't have an appropriate in district placement. So that has been beneficial for some of our families. The only complication with that for our process is if somebody gets allotted one year and we make the determination through our process, that they need more time, then that family's locked into a funding mechanism that limits them to one year. And that can make it really complicated for them to get what they need for their child. So there are some limitations to that. So that's some of the differences we've seen, but it's complicated either way.

Adam Dayan (00:38:23):

It is complicated. There's a lot of aspects to transition planning. And in my view, transition planning within the New York City school system is sorely lacking. And I think this was evidenced by recent class action lawsuit where a settlement agreement was reached, and New York City agreed to take on certain new responsibilities regarding transition planning. And so you may be familiar with some of this, but they're going to be building out a new manual for transition planning and there's new expectations regarding the IEP process and all of these changes that are now supposed to start happening because of this class action lawsuit that was settled.

And so I'm personally very curious to see how that develops. I'm typically a hopeful and optimistic person. And so I'm hopeful and optimistic that the transition planning process will get better within the New York City system, but as you say, they need somewhere to go. And so it's one thing to create an IEP that may be robust and inclusive of transition planning goals, but the students also need a school placement to go to where that IEP can be implemented. So it's going to be interesting to see how New York City changes in those respects.

John Civita (00:39:35):

I read that as well and my reading of it seemed surface, to that point though, that there wasn't really anything to support it yet. Maybe there will be, but at this point, and it's early on, obviously in that process, but there isn't anything to support it. And as I said before, it's really leaning back on high school as the place for them to go. We've had IEP meetings where students in our program, who have technically gone through their high school career or if we're having an IEP for them, the department of education is saying that they're going to place them back in 12th grade again, because they have no other place to put them. Clearly, that's not going to be appropriate for the child. We understand that the department of education isn't going to recommend our program. We know that, we're a private school, non-for-profit organization. We understand that that's not their position and I understand their position, but it's not in the best interest or it's not going to serve the child's needs.

Adam Dayan (00:40:32):


Speaker 1 (00:40:35):

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Adam Dayan (00:40:57):

We started to talk about this before, and I think it's a really important point. And that's how does the question of whether a student has received or will be receiving a high school diploma fit into this conversation? So how do you view that?

John Civita (00:41:13):

So for us, if a student comes into our program without a high school diploma, Winston Transitions still falls under the same accreditation as all Winston Preparatory Schools. Every Winston campus is under the same accreditation from NYSAIS. So it's an independent school accreditation. So students are able, after a successful completion of our program to get a Winston Preparatory School high school diploma, it's an independent school diploma. It's not a Regents diploma and it is applicable to any field of employment as well as college. So that piece is intact.

But again, it's helping families understand that that can be a pathway. So if they're in a position where their school, their current placement is not in a position to withhold a diploma because the child isn't demonstrating readiness, but they're not either comfortable or they don't feel that they're in a position to do that, then it becomes a decision for the family on how they want to approach that. Do they leave that current placement and enter our program? And again, we often see this happening because that's why we have students that are in our program, as I said earlier, technically in high school, because the families have made a decision to leave their current placement so that they can stay within their right, legally to have a fair and appropriate education. And then after completion with us, they would receive their high school diploma.

Adam Dayan (00:42:42):

Right. Because as we said before, the issuance of a diploma cuts off eligibility under the IDEA. Parents, listeners should know that there are legal measures that can be taken to stave off the issuance of a diploma if you're acting prospectively, preemptively. And if the diploma has been issued improperly, because the student is not ready, there's also measures that can be taken to address that matter, legally. How does Winston Transitions determine readiness? How will you know, how will you determine when a student is ready to receive a diploma?

John Civita (00:43:20):

So when we're thinking about our program, we think about the whole of the program as three buckets that we want our students to fill. They don't necessarily have to fill all three buckets consistently, but ultimately we want to make certain that our students are making gains from an academic perspective. But when I say academic, as I said before, learning for life, connecting these skillsets and association with their learning to this larger framework of their lives as adults.

The other piece is the social, emotional growth and development as I mentioned before, so that our students are demonstrating a clear understanding of the qualities of a sustainable and independent learner that they're able to articulate, they're able to take action around those skills, those strategies and implement them in various aspects of their life. And as I said before, we're never looking for a perfection, we know that there's going to be inconsistencies, but that they're demonstrating it as consistent as possible basis. And then the employability piece, that they've successfully gone through and completed an internship with our program, which we haven't talked about yet. But the internship piece of the program is a really important piece of that in regards to the readiness for employment. And again, the development of these skills, having a real practical place to go and practice these skills has been incredibly important for our kids.

Adam Dayan (00:44:44):

So let's talk about that now, can you paint the picture for the internship program?

John Civita (00:44:47):

Yeah. So again, when I was asked to develop the program, I looked at a few different models in relationship to how internships could work for our kids and kids with learning differences. And what I discovered was that internships were either a day or two a week at maybe three hours at a location, and potentially most often changing that environment to another one, as a sampling of internships. And more typically there were job coaches attached to that process, meaning somebody that would go with the student and support them through that learning process and be with them on a day-to-day basis. That's not what we wanted to do for our program, and it's not what I really thought would be beneficial. And I saw some of it as a perpetuation of learned helplessness and really needed to rip the bandaid off of having that more restrictive environment for our students and creating something that was much more realistic in relationship to what it really means to be out in the world of work.

And our program is designed, it has been from day one, where we're doing two full days of internships at 10 hours a week at the same location for the entire school year, meaning our students are immersed in the workplace and our students are there independently. So one of the first things I removed from the process was a job coach and working towards building in a system of support that wasn't as intrusive. And helping our students, again, learn from making mistakes, failing up, if you will. Mistakes happen, we all make them and if we're not making mistakes, then quite potentially, we're not really growing.

So our kids need to be out there and learning by doing, without somebody coaching them along every inch of the way. So finding organizations that are willing to do this with us, various businesses from office environments to healthcare environments, to culinary environments, creative environments, large organizations, small organizations, mom-and-pop shops, things like that. We have students in bakeries. We have students in cafeterias, in various private schools throughout the city. Prior to the pandemic, we had students in hospital settings. We're moving back towards that again for next year, senior care, museums. We have a partnership with Lincoln Center for students that need more support. That's a collaboration with Lincoln Center, where our students are participating in the access ambassador program that they offer. And they provide workshops in conjunction to the work that we're doing.

But ultimately our team, my internship team is really a mechanism behind the scene and in heavy communication with our internship providers via email phone calls, we are equipped to go into scenarios at any given time. If we need to spend a day with somebody, we can, if we do three comprehensive feedback sessions a year with the supervisor. We really view them as performance reviews. So if you were working for somebody and you had to sit down at a year end meeting and they would go over how you're performing, and quite often you have to do a reflection piece before you go into that meeting. So we engage in that. Our students are doing actually weekly reflections on their performance. We do a lot of work in-house to support the students.

So if there are areas of difficulty that they're finding themselves in, at a specific task or even a soft skill, which is a big part of what we're focusing on at our internships where it's not so much about a vocational approach, we're not a vocational program. Really what we're looking at is soft skills. And in some cases, some hard skills, but most often it's the soft skills, it's the communication, it's the problem solving, it's the taking initiative, it's the being receptive to feedback. It's all those things that are really essential for all of us, for any of us neurotypical or LD, to have in place and intact and being able to activate at any given moment. So that's a big part of it.

Adam Dayan (00:48:42):

John, how does the subject matter curriculum tie into the internship work the students are doing?

John Civita (00:48:48):

So I mentioned before professional studies is very much connected to that work. The ability for my internship team to meet with students individually, almost like mini focus sessions and go through their performance, go through feedback around their performance, work with them to identify areas of strength and areas of continued need for development. So that's a big part of it, but ultimately, everything that we do as a program is really designed to connect and work in concert in support of all of these needs. So nothing is compartmentalized. We're not working in a silo, we're not pulling in particular section of our program and solely focusing on one thing. We do that in aspects of the program, but ultimately all those pieces come back together and work as connecting tissue. If you will.

Adam Dayan (00:49:39):

Sure. Your work study program, is that different from your internship program?

John Civita (00:49:44):

It's one of the same. Yeah. It's one of the same.

Adam Dayan (00:49:46):

So what about preparing for college? Do you want to paint the picture about how you help your students prepare for college?

John Civita (00:49:52):

So a big way that we do that is our partnership with Landmark College, which we've had since day one for this program. Actually, Winston Prep has had a longstanding relationship with Landmark and their dual enrollment program. So many of our students at Winston Prep will take college coursework while they're in high school, through Landmark and their dual enrollment program. We do it a little bit differently. And when we're working with students around their college coursework, it's really more of an assessment tool. And we're using that data that we're collecting from how they're engaging in this work to make really good decisions with our family and our students about what's going to make sense for them moving forward, if college is the right next step. If it is, then what college is going to support them in the best possible way.

So if we have students coming into the program, and often students come into the program saying they want to go to college, whether looking at their profile or not indicates that really should be the next step. Sometimes that doesn't always line up. And even if somebody has significant difficulties on their profile, that on paper looks like they shouldn't go to college, their performance around that work can tell us a completely different story. So it's not pigeonholing anybody in any sort of way. Sometimes we have students that on paper look like they should go to college and their performance indicates that that's not the right track for them. And they should probably go a different direction. And we want to guide them to that. We've had students go into certificate programs and things of that nature to [inaudible 00:51:19].

Adam Dayan (00:51:19):

Vocational programs.

John Civita (00:51:20):

What was that?

Adam Dayan (00:51:21):

Vocational programs.

John Civita (00:51:22):

Yeah. Sometimes, yeah. We had one student over the years get an EMT certification, we had a couple of students go for nursing aid and we've had students get welding certificates, glassblowing, some really interesting stuff. And again, thinking about some other types of training and things that would support them to move forward in the world of employment, but ultimately, going back to college, it really does provide us with, as I said, that data so that we can have very clear, direct, transparent conversations with the student and the family. So if a student's struggling, we want to make certain that we're figuring out, along with them, why, helping them understand the need for further development in certain areas.

I'll give you a personal experience, my son at Winston took several courses with Landmark. The first course that he took, and really the course that we recommend any student to take in Transitions first is called perspectives in learning. And he was failing when he first started the course, primarily because he wasn't paying attention to the feedback. He wasn't listening or reading the emails from the professor. And I remember my wife and I were were like, "Well, what are you doing?" And he was really taken aback. We had a meeting with the folks at Winston as parents. So I had to step outside of my role and sit down as a parent.

Adam Dayan (00:52:37):

Right. A different hat.

John Civita (00:52:38):

Put on a totally different hat and addressing it and addressing it with him more importantly. And he, at that moment realized, wait a minute, yeah, if I check my email and I start setting up meetings with my professor and I'm listening and responding to the feedback that they're providing me, maybe I can do a little bit differently. And he did, he wound up pulling his grade up and passing the class.

Adam Dayan (00:53:00):


John Civita (00:53:00):

And from there he is been getting 90s. And he's leaving our program about 18 credits to college.

Adam Dayan (00:53:05):

Wow. That's amazing.

John Civita (00:53:07):

It's very cool.

Adam Dayan (00:53:08):


John Civita (00:53:09):

Again, it's a great outcome for many of our students. We've had students leave us with six credits, 12 credits in some cases. Students that have gone through Winston and have taken classes can leave with as many as 18. So you're looking at almost well over a semester, and they're not really that far behind, but more importantly, they've learned what it means to be a college student.

We don't do the work in a classroom for Landmark. They're doing the work independently. That's a little different than how the high school does it. The high school usually has a cohort of students to work during the academic day to work on that work. We've taken that in a very different approach and felt that college work is rarely ever done in a classroom. It's usually done on your off hours in between classes. You have papers to write and exams to prepare for and projects to present. So we wanted our students to engage in it in that way, and that really becomes their homework. We don't focus on content specific homework. We're using the focus space, the focused instructors to develop what we like to call life planning as their homework, or if they're taking Landmark, that after school hours really becomes the space for them to do Landmark work.

And if they're struggling with their time management and they're struggling with their ability to organize information, all that's going to become very clear to us. So we really encourage our families to step back from that process and not hire a tutor, not do the work with them. We want our students to, again, as I said before, in relationship to the internships, if they're going to fail, they're going to fail and much better that they fail with us, than when they're really enrolled in a college somewhere and the ability to help them pick up the pieces is going to be a lot harder.

Adam Dayan (00:54:45):

Absolutely. That's great.

Speaker 1 (00:54:48):

You're listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families with your host, Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan (00:54:56):

So we covered internship. We covered preparing for college. Is there anything else you want our listeners to know about preparing for work?

John Civita (00:55:03):

Yeah. Again, I just want to highlight the importance of soft skills. I want to highlight the importance of looking at an internship placement. It's not meant to be your lifelong career, necessarily. For some people it can be, but it's really meant to be a space to learn and grow, take chances, step outside your comfort zone, listen to feedback, respond to feedback and challenge yourself.

Adam Dayan (00:55:30):

Do some of your students continue working at the place where they interned?

John Civita (00:55:33):

Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, we just got a message from one of our internship providers today. As I was walking over here, one of my internship team members reached out to me and said, "Oh, what do you think of the possibility of this?" One of our organizations would like the current intern to continue on for the summer and potentially into next year.

Adam Dayan (00:55:50):


John Civita (00:55:51):

Now, we have to determine if that fits into her plans, but that opportunity exists. And we've had that happen multiple times over the years. It's never a guarantee, it's always a dream of mine to be a direct to employment placement type of program. That's a very complicated process, but when we have students and we have had many over the years, maybe one a year, sometimes two, gain employment from our internships, we lose that partnership, but that's a great outcome and we're always supportive of that.

Adam Dayan (00:55:51):


John Civita (00:55:51):


Adam Dayan (00:56:18):

That's wonderful. What does Winston Transitions look for in an evaluation or a school record when you're deciding whether to admit a student?

John Civita (00:56:27):

That's a great question. We're pretty far reaching in regards to that. Ultimately there has to be a level of independence that already exists. Again, to determine what that level of independence is, we will often use the ability to travel independently as a marker. It doesn't mean that a student can participate in our program. As long as the family understands that some of the heavy lifting might fall on them in that regard. We do not provide busing, primarily because transportation and all of that, we do include that as part of our process, we actually, we purchase MetroCards for our students, regular MetroCards, not provided through the department of education, as many private high schools might offer. And we also do that from independent skill development as well. So they have to track how much they're spending. They can only use that for school hours and have to understand the responsibility around that.

We've helped and supported families with transportation in a lot of different ways, but we're really centrally located on Madison Avenue between 37th and 38th. So there's a ton of express buses there. Pretty much every hub of transportation is there. We're also walking distance from Grand Central and nice little walk from Penn Station as well. So we have students coming from all over. It's absolutely manageable. We do travel training, we don't do door to door travel training, but we do travel training for internship locations and we do travel training for coming to the program. So let's say somebody is coming in from Long Island and they're coming in on the Long Island railroad, we've arranged to have various faculty members meet them at Penn Station until they get acclimated. In all honesty, it usually takes about a week and a half to two weeks at best for someone to get comfortable with the travel. It's really not complicated at all. And most often, that's usually the marker of that first leap into independence for students. And they feel this really incredible sense of pride.

It's probably more challenging from the family than it is for the student to let go and let their kid get on the New York City subway system. And I know a lot of parents are really nervous about that right now, currently under the situation that we're in, but same thing with the Metro North, it's letting go, letting them get on and experiencing what that can mean for them. And it really does open up a wide range of opportunities for our kids so that they can socialize more and they can actually get around more independently. So that's one piece.

From a cognitive perspective, looking at certain grade levels in regards to how a student can engage in the work that we're going to provide them with, the opportunities that we're going to provide them with. As I said before, we have students that have grade levels as low as third grade, some cases, even a little lower. If somebody is beyond, below that, then we're probably not the right program. That would ultimately probably mean that there is not a level of independence to get this started, not only from an academic perspective, but from an overall independent and they just might need something more restrictive.

Adam Dayan (00:59:12):


John Civita (00:59:13):

That doesn't happen often, but we have had to make that decision with families and say, we just don't think we can support this individual's needs at this time.

Adam Dayan (00:59:21):

I know you've shared some anecdotes with us. Do you have any other anecdotes you can share with our listeners to make this journey a little bit more concrete?

John Civita (00:59:29):

Yeah. I have a lot. I think we have a lot of really creative kids in our program, a lot. A lot of artists, a lot of musicians, actors, performers, it's really amazing. And a lot of people on our team, including myself, have a background in the arts and we really value that creative process. And we really value how the creative process can be carried over into all aspects of somebody's life. I think about myself and the creation of this program, and I really did rely on my creative abilities. I built this from scratch, along with support from Winston Prep, obviously, but it was a position to be put in to say, here's this open landscape, go do.

Adam Dayan (01:00:11):

I'm smiling because I know you built it from scratch. In fact, I was talking to someone the other day and he told me, "John had the guts to walk into the head guy's office and identify a gap that needed attention." And that's what you did. That's how it started, you had this idea, you saw it and you built it from nothing.

John Civita (01:00:31):

Yeah. Something like that. Yeah. Actually, they tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, we think you're the guy to do this." I, without hesitation said, "I'm in. What do I need to do?"

Adam Dayan (01:00:41):

Just like that.

John Civita (01:00:41):

Which yeah, it was pretty... I felt it was a bold move for sure. But again, here I am, 10 years, over 10 years later, we're running a thriving program and it's really supporting the needs of kids. So I think the willingness to take risks, that's a personal anecdote. The creative thing, when we're thinking about students, we've had some really cool things happen for some of our students. We had a young man who graduated from our program a couple of years ago, really talented, illustrator. Really unique perspective, very cartoony, but also has this really interesting so society, perspective and voice.

And he had created a original version of Jordan Peele's US poster. And not somebody who would... He had a social media network. He had his own Instagram page, but wasn't doing a lot of pushing his work out there to the general public. If you weren't following him, then he wasn't really doing much more than that. And his focus teacher, who is a really creative person herself, was really working with him to push the boundaries in that. So he, with her urging tagged Jordan Peele in this image that he posted on Instagram and Jordan Peele reposted it on his own page.

Adam Dayan (01:01:59):

Oh, wow.

John Civita (01:01:59):

And he got, how many thousands of likes from celebrities and everything. And a lot of attention. And he wound up getting a contract-

Adam Dayan (01:02:07):

Get out of here.

John Civita (01:02:08):

... to do some more work for, I think it was Universal Studios at the time that produced that movie. If I'm correct, I might be wrong on that. And then he also then from there, did a original poster and video for Beetlejuice, the musical.

Adam Dayan (01:02:22):


John Civita (01:02:23):

And then he got a contract from Disney.

Adam Dayan (01:02:24):

Get out.

John Civita (01:02:25):

Not a longterm contract, but a contract to do independent... An independent contractor contract. But amazing. So here was a young man on the spectrum, dyslexic, had all these struggles in his life from social, emotional perspective about who he was. And then through, again, the process of the work that we've done in our program, developed this awareness of how his area of strength was going to actually supersede the things that he struggled with. And that's the thing that was going to propel him. And he's in college and he's studying animation. And he's, from what I understand successfully going through that process, and hopefully those connections that he's made and the talent that he possesses is going to do more than just carry him through life. It's going to propel him. So that's just one story. I mean, I have a lot, Adam. If we had more time, I could sit here and tell you a ton.

Adam Dayan (01:03:18):

Well, that was a beautiful story. And I'm really glad you shared that. Parents sometimes are lacking hope and then they hear stories, success stories, people who are struggling and then turned into something very positive. And I think that gives them hope and optimism. So if you feel like sharing another one, please go right in.

John Civita (01:03:38):

Yeah. Again, I'm trying to think of... I don't want them all to center around a specific learning profile, so it's thinking about all of our students and I think one of the things that we really focus on and I urge our families to identify with, is incremental progress as well. So it's not always these giant leaps and bounds of growth and development or opportunities that arise. It's sometimes the little things that inch our students along. Those little markers of success that carry them in a more successful way. And highlight for our students that, "Yeah, I can."

Like I said, travel training. That really isn't a huge deal when you break it down. But for an individual that has never done that before, it is a big deal. And for the family to go, "Oh, my God, my child is now getting on the Metro North, or is now navigating the New York City subway system or an express bus." That's a huge deal.

Adam Dayan (01:04:28):


John Civita (01:04:28):

We had another student, a young woman who came to our program. She actually came to us from Winston Prep in her senior year. And so instead of completing Winston Prep as a senior, she joined us at the end of her junior year. Collectively, the folks at Winston and with my support as well felt that it was just the right next step for her. She was spinning a wheels through that process, and we just really wanted to think about something different and unique. And I think that's a unique perspective or approach that we take as a school and very talented. I know I'm focusing a lot on the talent, but it connects to the creativity part and how important that can be.

She was working at an internship, a local internship here, actually, not too far from here, the wholesale making gift bags and hair bows, and really this young woman, she struggled with feedback, initially. Ultimately wanted to go to college and had some real significant challenges around comprehension, but had this real gift of creativity, drawing and creating, both digital and works on paper, knitting. For one of her projects, she knitted little skull caps for preemies and donated them to Red Cross, which was incredible. And that was all part of a project that she came up with in focus and executed that. And that was something she had never done before. Seen a project from start to finish. That was a part of her executive functioning difficulties. At her internship they offered us the opportunity if she created a gift bag, they would donate that gift bag to our graduation. We have thousands of them, but she created that gift bag. We put her through a pretty rigorous process of feedback in regards to what we wanted the bag to look like. And after three or four different versions, we landed on one that we thought looked great and she produced it and they produced it for us and we have them and we've used them.

She also created a gift bag for their company that landed on the shelves of Burlington. And I forgot the other retailer. She actually made products that were out there for sale and they kept her on post the program too. And then she wound up going to Pratt after that for illustration and a very specific illustration program that was not very heavy on academics. So it was more supportive in regards to how she learned and tapped into her creativity as an art school should. So that's another story.

Adam Dayan (01:06:37):

Those are great stories. Thank you for sharing them.

John Civita (01:06:39):


Speaker 1 (01:06:39):

You're listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families with your host Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan (01:06:47):

Now, you're an artist. Can you talk about how you became an artist in the first place and what kind of art you specialize in?

John Civita (01:06:57):

How does one become an artist? I think it was always part of who I was as a kid, even thinking about just how I played with my toys and my action figures and stuff like that. I was always really very dramatic and creative on the scenarios and stuff that I would develop or set up always drawing and things like that. And then interestingly enough, in college, I discovered that I had a skill at sculpting, which I never had really done before in my life. And from there, that really became the medium that I connect with the most. And it's not something that I do professionally obviously, but it's something that I certainly rely on as an outlet in my life.

And again, using that idea of sculpture, primarily working clay, but I also like to play around with design aspects and things like that. And I think that's also helped me, again from perspective of developing this program and not only developing the program, but space planning and how the layout of the program looks in relationship to the function of it for our students, all of that stuff takes creativity. And it certainly lends itself to that. So yeah, I just identify as a creative thinker, maybe even more so than an artist.

Adam Dayan (01:08:04):

I can relate to the part you said about it being an outlet. I feel that way about creative writing. You go off and you do some creative writing for an hour or two, and then you come out of that and you've produced this creative piece and you feel differently on that side of it than you did before you started.

John Civita (01:08:21):

Yeah. It's cathartic.

Adam Dayan (01:08:23):

Definitely. That is the right word. How do you view the role of art in education, especially the education of children with special needs?

John Civita (01:08:32):

As I said before, it has a tremendous impact using that creative process, whether somebody identifies, going back to what you said before, identifying as an artist or deciding if you're an artist or whatever it might be. It's thinking creatively and helping our students think creatively. Our creative projects course, it's not an art class. It's a creative space. We're using the creative process to help our students learn how to problem solve, learn how to make decisions, learn how to take chances, risks, push the boundaries of how they want to self-express. That's a really big part of it. The teacher who runs that course has a background in fabrication. So working on film sets and theater sets and building all different types of elements of set design-

Adam Dayan (01:09:20):


John Civita (01:09:20):

... and managing projects, that's his background. And bringing that understanding into this learning environment that we've created for kids with learning differences or young adults with learning differences has been awesome. We have 3D printer machines that are running constantly. We have students that are making films. And we have a young man who has a lot of, again, another anecdote, we have a young man who has a lot of struggle with communication, really introverted, just doesn't really know how to express himself, but he's really adept at making original music scores, composing. And he's been doing a lot of that. And our push with him is to help him start to explore and explain and express what it is that he's creating in a more professional way. And that's a big part of what creative projects and the creative process can help our kids learn to do.

I remember back in art school, for myself personally and one of my sons is in art school now for college, he's a really talented painter, printmaker. I'm not just saying that because he's my son, he really is. And I would share with him often a story just to remind him of criticism and feedback and in regards to art. And I remember in one of my sculpture classes in college, I presented this very realistic image in sculpture and talking about it. And then this other student presented a pile of bricks. And the way that she described this pile of bricks was way, way more comprehensive than what I was describing in relationship to my very concrete image. It is what it is. It's a portrait, you know what it is, it has some abstractness to it, but you still understand what it is. Hers was more concept driven. It was a pile of bricks. And what she described that pile of bricks represented, blew the professors away.

Adam Dayan (01:11:19):


John Civita (01:11:20):

Now I looked at it and said, "It's a pile of bricks." But it's perception, and it's how you articulate your idea and how you share with the people around you, again, what it is that you're trying to convey is incredibly important. So helping our kids, no matter how connected they are to an artistic process or any idea that they have, helping them explain in a really clear way to an audience, whoever that audience may be, of what it is that they're trying to produce or create or share.

Adam Dayan (01:11:55):

As the parent of twins myself, I have to ask you, what's it been like for you to raise twins who are now grown adults?

John Civita (01:12:01):

So yeah, I think the individualization part of it, looking at our kids as individuals. My kids are fraternal, not identical. I think yours are fraternal as well, correct?

Adam Dayan (01:12:13):

Same. Correct.

John Civita (01:12:16):

My boys are polar opposites. I mean, besides the fact that one of them has a learning challenge, the other one doesn't, doesn't mean the other one with not a learning challenge doesn't present with his own challenges, he certainly does. But I think the most important thing is looking at them as individuals rather, and helping them see themselves as individuals, so they create their own pathway. And I think we did a good job at that.

Adam Dayan (01:12:37):

I'm sure you did. John, before we conclude, I have to ask, what fuels your passion? Why do you do what you do? What drives you to get out of bed and go into school every day?

John Civita (01:12:47):

I think just thinking about my own story, thinking about my children and thinking about anyone that's out there, that is being underserved, misrepresented, not provided with opportunities that are going to help them move their life forward is a space that I want to be in. And it took me some time to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life. So whenever I reflect on that, and wake up every morning and look at my calendar and reflect on the stuff that I'm going to walk into and then some, that's the stuff I'm passionate about. It's all the unknowns. It's all the uniqueness of our students, the unique challenges that our families are facing, connecting that with my own perspective and unique challenges, both as an individual and as a parent, all of that stuff is what drives me. It's intrinsically motivated, ideally.

I think that's also an important point too, is that's what we're working towards helping our kids understand, that life is about connecting with something that you can stand back and look at and go, "I did that." It doesn't mean that I got a reward for it. It doesn't mean necessarily that I got a raise or a promotion all the time, I mean, those things are wonderful, but ideally it's stepping back and looking at whatever it is that you were involved in, whether it's something you created physically from an art perspective, a creative process perspective or it's something like the developing on this program or more importantly, stepping back and watching the growth and development of a whole host of students that you've had some involvement with, is beyond rewarding and it is intrinsically motivated. It's about that sense of pride in the work that we do, and it's really identifying, I think another important point too, it's identifying with the why. We're always working with our students to help them identify why. Why am I doing this? I'm not just doing it for a grade. I'm not doing it for a promotion or a raise.

I'm doing it because I'm connecting with something deeper and bigger here, whatever that thing is. And that's ultimately what drives me or fuels my desire to do this on a daily basis and take it wherever it is that we're going to potentially take this to.

Adam Dayan (01:15:09):

That is so beautiful.

John Civita (01:15:10):

Thanks. I appreciate that.

Adam Dayan (01:15:11):

All right, let's bring it home. Where can our listeners get more information about your school?

John Civita (01:15:16):

So if you go to, and there you click on campuses, our campuses, you will find Transitions and there'll be information on there regarding our program, as well as the admissions process. Ideally the best place to find more about our program is joining me and my admissions director for an open house. We host them every Wednesday morning at 9:00 AM. We will be hosting throughout the summer as well. And that really is the best place to get the most comprehensive perspective on what it is that we do.

Adam Dayan (01:15:47):

How can they sign up for the open houses?

John Civita (01:15:49):

Through the website as well. We're also very much available at any point in time for individual conversations. Most often after an open house, parents will have very unique individual questions about their situation, their child, their child's needs. So we certainly are always available to have those conversations. I also look at this as, whether a family or a student is right for our program or a family chooses to come to our program. Any conversation that I can have with a family about this process, about transition, about the legal process, certainly deferring to the professionals who handle that on a more comprehensive level, but any insight that we can provide from an educational perspective, any insight that we can provide from a personal perspective is to me a valuable use of my time. And I think that probably connects a little bit back to the passion question as well. I'm in this to provide information, to guide, to support, to help.

Adam Dayan (01:16:45):

Great. Do you want to give out a phone number or email address?

John Civita (01:16:48):

Sure. So I can be reached at J as in John Civita, C-I-V as in Victor, I-T-A Our admissions directors name is Lauren Kellner. That's L. Kellner, K-E-L-L-N-E-R. Either one of us will be able to answer questions in relationship to your interest in Winston Transitions and how it could potentially support your child.

Adam Dayan (01:17:12):

John, I've always enjoyed bumping into you at social events. I admire your commitment to Winston over the last 18 years and the wonderful work you've done to help students transition from one phase of life to the next. I will definitely be calling you for tips on raising twins. And I want to thank you so much for being here today.

John Civita (01:17:32):

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Adam and the feeling is absolutely mutual. And hopefully we will continue on this journey together as professionals and I'm absolutely available at any point in time to share some unique parenting tips about being a parent of twins and good luck with the next parenting adventure that you're going to be on soon.

Adam Dayan (01:17:54):

Thank you. You very much.

Speaker 1 (01:18:00):

Thanks for listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families. Don't forget to subscribe for a new episode every month. For more resources and helpful information, check out our blog at

This podcast provides general information, which is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on this information for any purpose. For legal counsel, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances. Your listening to this podcast does not create an attorney client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC. No attorney client relationship is established unless a retainer agreement has been executed between a client and the law offices of Adam Dayan. This podcast may constitute attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Any guests featured or resources mentioned on this podcast are for information purposes and are not endorsed by the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC.



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