A parking lot with red brick apartment buildings in the background with a sign reads "Bloomfield High School Parking Lot 2" next to a sparse tree losing its leaves in the fall. The light from setting sun is filtered by surrounding tress.

In 2021, Bloomfield High School launched the Twilight Program, a new alternative education program at the high school for students experiencing school anxiety or school avoidance.

Twilight is part of a set of programs in the district that support students who have needs that are not met by the traditional school day, including VEST (vocational education and special training), ABA (applied behavior analysis), and PRIDE, another alternative education program. 

Bloomfield High School’s Twilight allows students to attend classes in the afternoons instead of during the regularly scheduled school day while continuing to receive instruction and support from dedicated program staff. This staggered schedule allows students in the program to have a more positive academic and social high school experience. 

Bloomfield Info interviewed district assistant superintendent Joe Fleres and special services director Suzanne Abendschoen to give students and their families more information about this alternative education program.

What is the Bloomfield High School Twilight Program?

The Twilight program is an alternative education program at Bloomfield High School that takes place Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Students in the program work with certified district teachers to meet their academic requirements while also developing social and emotional skills. The program provides a customized experience for both special education and general education students who have struggled with school anxiety and school avoidance.

When and how did the Bloomfield Twilight Program start?

The Twilight Program began in 2021. A similar program called Liberty existed previously at Bloomfield College, but the Bloomfield school district was informed that the program would need to find a new home in 2019. The district considered a number of options and decided on an in-house program at the high school with a staggered schedule.

“We looked around at the regulations and policies and lo and behold, we could do stuff kind of staggered after hours allowing the kids to come in during this program. So we went back to the [school] board…we started putting a budget together for this and it was a home run,” Fleres said.  

The program has allowed the district to retain students that were having challenges attending an eight hour school day and monitor students’ progress as the program has grown, according to Fleres.

Who runs the Bloomfield Twilight Program?

Director of Special Services Suzanne Abendschoen oversees this program as well as the other special education programs in the district. She worked with  Fleres and Bloomfield schools superintendent Salvatore Goncalves to put together a team of educators for the program and meets weekly with the program coordinator, Gerard Roberto, and school psychologist, Kelly McDermott. 

Roberto is the program’s social studies teacher and also serves as the program coordinator, providing support for the other teachers and staying in communication families.

Roberto is also a special education educator at Bloomfield Middle School, providing continuity between the two schools, according to Abendschoen.

Kelly McDermott is a school psychologist based in the high school. She oversees the coordination of counseling services for students in the program. She also monitors the implementation of students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP), and monitors students progress throughout the school year.

The staff involved in the program include:

  • Meghan Leonard – Physical Education
  • Onur Akili – Math
  • Melissa Terranova – English Language Arts
  • Alexandra Gutierrez – Science
  • Raymond Abernathy – Find Arts 
  • David Martinez – Spanish
  • Molly Colasanti – Paraprofessional
  • David Bauer – Paraprofessional  
  • Kelly McDermott – School Psychologist
  • Gerard Roberto – Program Coordinator

“When you have people that want to be there and love what they’re doing. You can’t put a price tag on that….There is such a supporting and accepting culture in this program that – without these individuals – I don’t think would be possible,” Abendshcoen said.

The Bloomfield High School principal’s office helps coordinate schedules and classroom space. Program staff and leaders also communicate with other members of the district staff such as bus drivers and security guards. 

What does a typical day look like for students in the Bloomfield Twilight program?

Students attend school in person from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday with Friday available to receive other services they need such as individual behavioral counseling, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. 

Just like students attending the traditional school day, Twilight students have assignments to complete outside of school. But they can complete homework and supplemental learning  before their school day starts. 

The program is designed for students to meet state requirements for their core academic classes so that they earn the credits needed to graduate. They also have art and physical education during their school day. 

In this small-group setting, teachers are able to provide social and emotional support to foster resilience and support students in navigating transitions. Students also participate in team-building activities that foster social and emotional skills.

Outside of the program hours, Twilight Program holds social events for students and families such as Friends-Giving and Family Game Night. 

“These are kids that typically are not participating in school events, holiday parties, sporting events, things like that. And we’ve created an environment where not only do we take care of the academics, we take care of their school experience,” Abendschoen said.

How are students admitted to Bloomfield’s Twilight Program? 

“Selection [isn’t] haphazard. Everything is with diligence and equity,” Abendschoen said.

This program is specifically designed for students who have been experiencing consistent challenges and need emotional regulation support. 

Counselors and teachers try other interventions first. And Twilight provides an in-district placement that can help these students be successful if challenges persist.

Students can be referred to the program through a multistep process:

  • A student’s counselor engages in discussions with other staff members.
  • They agree that the Twilight Program would be a good fit for the student and alternative education staff and counselors develop a proposal to present to the student and their parents or caregivers.
  • School staff present the proposal to and seek parental and student consent.
  • Students and families commit to a 16 week placement. 

Making sure that the students and families are on board is a critical part of the process, according to Abendschoen.

“It’s commitment. It’s after hours. There’s an academic component. We hold them to a high standard. And if the parents and the community are not on board with this, this, this program fails. Right?  So that’s why we have a collaborative but stringent process to meet the identification of the students,” Abendschoen explained. 

How and when are students able to transition out of  Bloomfield’s Twilight program?

The program is designed to enable students to smoothly assimilate back into the traditional high school program if and when they feel ready to do so, according to Abendschoen. The classes follow pacing guides that keep them on the same material as the daytime classes so students can reintegrate if they are ready. 

“If they are meeting with the team.. And they’re like, ‘You know what, I think I’m ready to try a class at the high school,’ we can schedule that,” Abendschoen said. 

Increased attendance is an important data point, and administrators are making use of this and other data to keep track of students’ progress with the program. 

“All the students in this program… are a success story because they’re coming [to school],” Abendschoen said.

Student progress is measured through several data points including:

  • Grades
  • Attendance
  • Individual goal setting and monitoring with students
  • Feedback from students, parents and guardians, teachers and staff
  • Teacher and staff  to student interactions with a focus on social reciprocity, eye contact, and collaborating for academic purposes
  • Student to student interactions with a focus on  peer social exchanges; actively collaborating with peers for academic purposes
  • Ability to follow class and school building rules
  • Establishing a sense of agency by advocating or expressing for academic or social-emotional needs to be met

Two of 13 students who have participated in the high school’s Twilight Program have returned to the traditional school day while others have preferred to stay with the program. 

What feedback has the Bloomfield Twilight program received? 

The administration had a chance to hear from families during a coffee hour held for families earlier this school year.

“We’ve had coffee [hours] for various programs, and you’ll get one or two or three parents come. And that’s always nice. But we walked into this room and pretty much every child was represented. And that’s something we don’t see in any of our initiatives,” Fleres said. 

Family members have suggested having more coffee hours with the children involved and group events like a guided paint night to foster community belonging, according to Abendschoen.

“What’s lovely is it’s such a support for the parents. They are meeting other parents that they wouldn’t necessarily meet and they are connecting [about their] their children,” Abendschoen said.

Parents and guardians have come into the program feeling isolated and defeated after  struggling to manage their student’s behavior but by connecting with each other through the Twilight Program they have come to realize that they are not alone when their children are dealing with issues outside of their control, according to Abendschoen.

Abendschoen said after hearing from the parents and caregivers of students in the Twilight Program, she would like to create a support group for caregivers with children in the program with specific resources and expert guest speakers they can ask questions to.

Parents and caregivers have also shared that they have been able to observe noticeable changes in their students since being enrolled in the Twilight Program. One parent told Abendschoen that she was surprised when she was able to sit and talk with other parents at the program’s holiday party and her child was not clinging to her side due to social anxiety but was engaged in playing a game with his classmates.

What are the goals for the Bloomfield Twilight program moving forward?

One of the goals that the administrative team has for the future is to continue to grow the program to make sure it is able to serve all the students who could benefit from it. The program started with 9 students in the 2021-2022 school year and grew to 13 in 2022-2023. At the same time, they want to keep the program small since the smaller setting is critical to the program’s success. 

Another goal Fleres noted is to continue to find ways to support students’ growth. 

“[Program staff work] to not only ensure that these kids are academically prepared for the world, but to make sure that they have the life skills to be prepared to assimilate into society successfully,” Fleres said.

Thea Burstin

Thea Burstin has been a Bloomfield resident since 2015. She completed the Bloomfield Info Project’s Community Reporter training program in June 2022.