Over the next ten months, First Children will be celebrating our anniversary with monthly newsletters about our 10 year company history and employee spotlights for each employee who has been with us for ten years! You will also find 10th anniversary displays around our locations in Fanwood and Cherry Hill. The ten-month celebration will culminate in a special birthday celebration…more details to come!
First, a little history about how First Children Services came to be…
What is now First Children School started as a Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) therapeutic play group program in Mountainside, NJ in 1977. The CSH program grew out of a nucleus of about five or six preschool-age children with disabilities who lived at home but came to the hospital for therapy. The recreation department at CSH decided that it might be nice to form a biweekly play group for children to socialize and participate in nursery school type activities in addition to receiving therapy. During these play groups, children were pulled out for half-hour sessions of individual speech, occupational, and physical therapies.
The following year, a law was passed in New Jersey entitling all children with disabilities ages 3 and up educational services. In response to this new law, CHS decided to convert this play group to an accredited private school for disabled children. The initial class was taught by a special education teacher, and therapies were delivered by NJ Department of Education certified therapists. The students’ tuition, therapies, and transportation were funded by their local school districts.
The CHS school became well respected throughout the state, and the student population grew steadily. By 1988, the CHS school outgrew the location in Mountainside and moved to its current location in Fanwood which was a former public elementary school. In its new setting, the school reopened with three classrooms and 36 children ages 3-5 attending half-day or full-day programs. CHS also opened a child care center, A Special Place, on the Fanwood campus to provide childcare for CHS employees.
In 2009, the CHS school and A Special Place Child Care Center were purchased by newly formed First Children, LLC founded by Joe Hess. Joe had previously spent over twenty years managing for-profit and not-for-profit provider organizations and was the former CFO, COO, and then President of Bancroft NeuroHealth, one of the country’s most prestigious organizations serving children and adults with a wide range of severe disabilities. The child care center kept the name A Special Place, but the school,which then had 43 Pre-K and elementary school aged students, was renamed First Children School. Many CSH employees, including Pam Radel, child care center director, and Ellen D’Amato, school psychologist, continued on with First Children and are still with the company today. This was the beginning of the First Children story. In 2010, Kathleen McCarthy Gorski joined the school as the principal and she has been leading the school since then. As the students aged, the school expanded to include elementary and middle school programs. As enrollment increased, the needs of the students became more diverse. To meet these needs, the school added several specialized service lines including behavioral services and services for students who are visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or deaf-blind. The school also added enrichment therapies such as music, art, horticulture, and pet therapy. Parents and school staff worked together to create the First Children School PTA which holds events throughout the year. First Children School parent involvement is priority and extends past the PTA including activities and sign language classes for parents.
Tune in next month for more First Children Services history…