ESE program gets new bus

After over a year of fundraising, Jupiter High’s special education program received their brand new, $100,000 bus on Oct. 8. It arrived on campus at 10 a.m. to the delight of students, teachers, faculty and staff. 

Principal Dr. Colleen Iannitti was overwhelmed with joy about having a new bus for the students. 

“I never thought I’d be so excited about a school bus as I am right now. I feel like I just got a sports car that I have been waiting for my whole life,” Iannitti said.

Students in the special education program participate in off-campus work opportunities to learn real-life skills. For years, these students had to rely on an old bus that often broke down to get to their work locations.

“We have a career experience program where we take the students off campus to do job training. We use it for as many real-life skills for the students that we have in the program,” Helene McAfee, Jupiter High’s special education teacher, said.

Iannitti explained the importance of building relationships with business partners in the Jupiter community who are hoping to work with students in the future.

“It allows us to take our kids into the community and have real work experiences. I am really excited for the kids,” Iannitti said.

McAfee spearheaded the fundraising activities for the new bus, as she saw the need for her students to continue to build their job training skills. 

“We try to go to lots of places like the movie theatre, Papa John’s, Chili’s, Publix, elementary schools, and Miller’s Ale House to get the students lots of job training,” McAfee said. “I have also had a couple students hired at the jobs they have done training at.”

With the help of the community, and especially Waterfront Properties that matched each donation, the ESE program raised the necessary funds for the new bus right before the COVID-19 shutdown. McAfee stressed that her students did all the legwork to raise enough money for the new bus.

“All last year, we did things with restaurants. We had parents donate. People in the community donated,” McAfee said. “The kids were so excited because they all helped raise money for [the bus], and they were just so happy because they know they did it all in the process.”

When the bus arrived on Jupiter’s campus after months of waiting, the students were there to greet their new mode of transportation.

When asked about her favorite thing about the new bus, senior Brianna Mannarino said she enjoyed the “air-conditioning” the most. Mannarino was also excited about going “off campus to job sites.” 

Compared to the old bus, the new one has air conditioning, a wheelchair lift and more seating for students to safely distance themselves.

“Our old bus had no air-conditioning, and it was from 1998. It was older than the kids, and it didn’t work for what we needed,” McAfee said. “Unfortunately, the county couldn’t buy new buses for us. So, we decided that we would have to do it on our own, and we did it.”

Jupiter High’s special education program is eager to expand their on-site job training, in addition to using the bus for other field trip opportunities.

“This has been a long time coming, and we are really excited to be able to have a bus that we can use eventually,” McAfee said.