The magic that happens at Essex Valley School in West Caldwell, New Jersey is unparalleled. The school, a comprehensive therapeutic alternative school, helps students in ages 12 to 21 with behavior disorders reach their full potential.
With just 95 students and 60 staff members, the student-to-adult ratio allows the school to provide small class sizes with a more customized approach. Some students are members of the National Honors Society and focused in areas such as music production, culinary arts, construction and hydroponics. Some have graduated on to masters programs and others now work at the school in various professional positions.
“There’s really something special happening here,” says Michelle Macchia, Board President, Essex Valley School. “It’s amazing to see these students the districts tend to give up on become productive socially and academically.”
“It’s a school of second chances, students who haven’t met success in other placements tend to meet success in our school,” says Alan Lichtenstein, Executive Director. “We’ve had students who people wouldn’t have anticipated graduating from college, and they come to us and they work for us. Every year I have 10-15 students say their goal is to work for us.”
Adapting to the new normal
In March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school took everything virtual. Remote learning required the school to move quickly and train their staff in this new environment. Making the transition was a challenge for the school but they worked hard to keep their students engaged.
As they started the new school year, Essex Valley was better prepared to try a combination of virtual and in-person learning. To make the new hybrid schedule work, the school provided Chromebooks to middle school students and iPads to high school students. They’re continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the students as they go through the year. “The only constant this year is change,” says Lichtenstein. “We’re modifying to get the students more involved and keep them engaged.”
Working Hand in Hand
Essex Valley School is grateful for a banking partner that goes the extra mile. Valley associates support the students by teaching them how to write resumes and prepare for interviews, as well as by hosting banking workshops. Last year, Valley partnered with Essex Valley to honor the Caldwell police department. The event was held at a Valley location and was fully catered by the Essex Valley culinary arts students—someone even played the guitar and sang during the event.
“Valley has always been a good banking partner,” says Lichtenstein. “In addition to supporting us financially, they came in to support our kids and not a lot of people do that.”
Regional Head of Retail Banking for Valley in NY and NJ, Fred Castrovinci, values his relationship with the school as well. “Hearing the stories, seeing the facility and the impact really touched a nerve in a good way,” says Castrovinci. “It made me want to contribute and help further the progress of the school, so I joined their Board in 2020.”
Fun fact: Every year Essex Valley School hosts a basketball game where former students come back to participate and share their success stories.