NAZARETH, Pa. — A simulated apartment wasn’t something AJ Kise had heard of in other school districts, but it was a vision he had for Nazareth Area High School.

That vision has been realized, with the recent unveiling of the fully furnished space in what had been a run-of-the-mill classroom.

“Imagine a world where every student, regardless of their abilities, walks through the doors of opportunity — a world where barriers crumble, differences are celebrated and education empowers all to reach their full potential,” Kise, the Nazareth Area schools’ director of special education, said during a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Today we stand at the threshold of making that dream a reality.”

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The simulated apartment at the high school in Upper Nazareth Township is designed to provide a realistic and engaging environment where students can gain practical experience in essential daily living skills, according to the school district. Through evidence-based practices, hands-on activities and real-world applications, about 25 students this school year will work to develop competencies in areas like:

• Food and kitchen safety: Meal planning, preparation and cleanup.
• Laundry: Sorting, washing, drying and ironing clothes.
• Budgeting: Managing finances and making informed spending choices.
• Planning and organization: Setting goals, prioritizing tasks and managing time effectively.
• Social skills: Building positive relationships, communicating effectively and navigating social situations.
• Independent living skills: Personal hygiene, home maintenance and safety procedures.

They’re the kinds of invaluable skills that many take for granted, said Nazareth Area schools Superintendent Richard Kaskey. In the simulated apartment, the students have a safe environment in which to make errors and experience repercussions, while they gain confidence in growing the skills they’ll need to thrive as adults.

“This simulated apartment is not just a space, it’s a springboard,” Assistant Superintendent Isabel Resende said. “It will be a training ground where our students with special needs can develop essential skills for living independently, but more importantly they’ll gain confidence, self-reliance and the belief that they are capable of achieving anything they set their mind to.”

The ceremony this month drew state Reps. Ann Flood, Joe Emrick and Zach Mako, all Republicans who represent Northampton County communities. Flood presented Kise with a proclamation from the House recognizing the effort behind the new initiative. She and her husband, Dan, started Lauren’s Hope Foundation to help children with special needs. It is named for their daughter, who died shortly before Christmas 2007 at age 4 due to a brain injury.

Cindy McAllister from Nazareth-based Martin Guitar handed Kise a framed wall hanging celebrating the company’s 190th anniversary to adorn the room, alongside other memorabilia paying homage to the community. There are a Mario Andretti bobblehead and miniature racing helmet, a football autographed by Nazareth Area High School alumnus and Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson and more, including school district photos and yearbooks dating to 1927.

It was the fall of 2022 when Kise came up with the idea of the simulated apartment. He approached Chrissy Glasgow, life-skills teacher for students with disabilities in the district, then took the proposal to Resende and Kaskey and the school board for approval.

The district’s Blue Eagle Foundation supported the effort with a $5,000 donation, according to Kise. Stofanak Custom Cabinetry donated the cabinets and countertops; HomeTown Brand Center sold the appliances for the apartment at a discount; and district employees, friends and family donated the furniture.

Nazareth Area School District facilities and operations and maintenance workers joined Kise in the transformation as the vision took hold over the past two school years.

“This will significantly improve their quality of life and future success,” Kise said of the district’s students, before reflecting on the timeline with humor: “For those of you that watch shows on HGTV, the 30-minute episode where they redo an entire house is not real.”

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