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Birch Family Services holds graduation ceremonies for developmentally disabled students in Queens

Graduation ceremony at the Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children. (Photo courtesy of Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children)
Photo courtesy of Birch Family Services

Three Birch Family Services schools celebrated hundreds of students with developmental disabilities with graduation and moving up ceremonies.

The Long Island City Early Childhood Center, Springfield Gardens Education Center and the Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children all participated in the celebrations. 

Espa Sergiou, the director of Education Programs, said that her schools had to pivot quickly as COVID-19 hit. This year, the school was hybrid or fully remote learning.

“Many kids had a rough time with this learning approach, especially our kids with special needs,” Sergiou said. “The key was to work closely with families to provide what was needed.”

Birch Family Services provides educational assistance to students with autism and developmental disabilities all over New York City. Every year, about 1,200 students are given tailored education plans to their individual needs. The organization also helps connect older individuals with job opportunities and residential programs.

Sergiou said the goal is to help students lead fulfilling lives; one student’s mom said that’s exactly what Birch Family Services has done for her son. 

Kimberly Berry’s 21-year-old son went to the Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children and just graduated this year. Jordan Berry had a hard time getting used to remote learning but was able to adjust.

“Although this was his last year, the outcome was very positive,” Berry said. “The teachers worked very well with the children. It was a very productive year for him.”

Berry said that Birch Family Services was the best thing for her son and his growth. 

“The longer he attended the school, the more I saw his maturity level improve,” Berry said. 

At the ceremony for the Susser School, Berry said she was dancing and singing as she watched her son graduate. 

“It was a big day for him,” Berry said. “It was a big moment for him and my family. We’re very proud of Jordan. He has come a long way.”

Sergiou said that the ceremonies were very moving after a difficult year. 

“We didn’t expect to be able to have such a joyous event as we were able to,” Sergiou said. “To see the looks on those faces of students and their families is really very rewarding.”

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