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Jacksonville Special Education School Raising Money To Expand

Sign hanging on fence.
Michelle Corum
/
WJCT News
A sign on the school track welcomes visitors to the North Florida School of Special Education in Jacksonville.

A special education school, just east of downtown Jacksonville, is depending on donations to be able to serve more students.

The 25-year-old North Florida School of Special Education sits on several acres tucked away in Arlington, with enough space for a butterfly garden, an amphitheatre and a green house. 

Here, special education teachers work with students who have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities like autism or Down syndrome. The nonprofit school offers art and music classes, a track for exercise, and an urban farm where kids learn how to grow food.

“We’ve been out picking hibiscus calyxes, and had hibiscus sorbet during snack time,” said farm manager Tim Armstrong, who also has a son with Down syndrome. 

Eighteen-year-old student Ethan Colster is planting seeds and picking peppers to make jelly that will be sold under the school’s Berry Good Farms brand.  The experience here on the farm is awesome.  It’s a good job site. I hope to work at Publix one day,” he said.

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North Florida School of Special Education students roll out dough to make dog biscuits for their "Barkin' Biscuits" enterprise.

Most students attend on state scholarships that cover about three-quarters of the $15,000 tuition. Still, the campus is bursting at the seams with 150 students, and there’s a wait list to get in.

A capital campaign is underway to raise $6 million to expand. Philanthropist Delores Barr Weaver is giving $1 million for a therapeutic equestrian center.

Head of the School Sally Hazelip believes the country has come a long way in how it looks at people with disabilities.

“Obviously, would I have loved for our president-elect not to have made a joke about someone with a disability? Absolutely,” she said.  “I think he probably in hindsight regrets that, but that being said, I think we are much stronger; (people with disabilities, their families, our community who supports us,) are much stronger than that.”

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School head Sally Hazelip talks with her son, Collin Hazelip, who graduated from the school.

Hazelip said she wants more kids to be able to come here and become the best version of themselves, like her 22-year old son Collin Hazelip. “I can do my own things independent,” Collin said. “I can cook  and clean for myself, and without the work that the NFS had gave me, I wouldn’t have learned all those things to become independent.”

Collin graduated in 2015 and is now living in his own place.

Michelle Corum can be reached at mcorum@wjct.org, 904-358-6308 or on Twitter @MCorumonME