About the Program

We recognize that students with multiple, developmental, or intellectual disabilities need a program that combines life skills and core academics to better prepare them for independent living. Students succeed at Saint Catherine Academy because of our small, individualized program in a nurturing-yet-challenging environment that recognizes the capabilities of each student. We work together to help each student achieve their highest level of personal independence.


The Academy offers a careful integration of academics and life/vocational skills. Our facility is specially designed for our program. Our teachers are state-certified professional educators who holistically address students’ social and academic education, supported by experienced instructional assistants.

Program focus evolves with the student at each stage of learning. Elementary and middle school-age students spend a greater amount of time on core academics, supplemented with life and social skills. The adaptive High School Program introduces a greater concentration on vocational skills, reinforced by continued work on academic and social skills. The Transition Program has equal emphasis on vocational and independent living skills, reinforced by functional language and math skills.


The core Academic Program at Saint Catherine Academy includes language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

Using a combination of individual instruction and small group sessions, as well as assistive technology, our certified special education teachers are able to assess progress and plan necessary accommodations for each student to maximize potential. Emphasis is placed in developing and maintaining language arts skills and math proficiency.

Each student’s plan is highly individualized and driven by ongoing assessment that incorporates the student’s interests. Annual goals and objectives are based on the Diocese of Bridgeport curriculum frameworks and developed based on each student’s need and current functioning.

Vocational Experience

The purpose of our vocational program is to prepare our students for life after school—to be productive, independent, and participating adults to the extent that each individual’s abilities will allow.

At age 16, job skill development becomes part of our students’ individualized plans, with the goal of both personal independence and integration into the workplace.
In vocational classes led by a full-time Vocational Coordinator, teachers and job coaches introduce workplace vocabulary, different job opportunities, and hands-on work experience within the school environment. Onsite work experience includes office work, sorting and packaging, assembly line activities, and maintenance.
Before placement at a job site, students have the opportunity to visit a variety of places to gain an understanding of different types of work and discover their interests. Through these placements they are exposed to different workplace environments and have the chance to develop multiple skills. Volunteer job mentors travel with the students and remain onsite to assist in acclimation, reinforce skills, and help students develop appropriate workplace communication and self-advocacy skills.

Job sites have included Gilbertie’s Herb Farm, Fairfield University Food Service, and area elementary schools as child care and preschool helpers. Placements also currently include area restaurants, department stores, and Sacred Heart University.
  • Math: managing money using a school-based banking program, budgeting, and consumer skills
  • Language Arts: workplace and community vocabulary, resume-writing, and completing employment applications
  • Life Skills: independent living skills, such as meal preparation and shopping.
For students whose abilities are more suited for a community-based program, the focus is on:
  • Developing appropriate social skills for community activities
  • Learning safe behavior in the community
  • Completing volunteer work and school-based projects
  • Continued development of language skills for volunteer tasks and participating as independently as possible in community and living situations.
All students who are 18-22 are either involved in a vocational program with an emphasis on transition to adulthood. Students are guided to discover their own strengths, gain confidence from their successes, and value that which makes them different.

Social Skills

Social skills are important to communicating and interacting with others and are critical for long-term relationships. The ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions while understanding and responding to other people is crucial for a more independent life.

Students with developmental delays often need help in developing these crucial social skills. Direct teaching and guided practice, along with school-wide consistency, help with the development of these skills. Engagement with age-level peers through family and school relationships is encouraged. Modeling appropriate behavior in different social situations, use of video to provide individual feedback, social stories, and role playing are methods to develop and practice desired skills.
Social skills development includes these topics:
  • sharing
  • attending to others
  • participating in group activities
  • introductions and appropriate greetings, depending on relationships
  • waiting and taking turns
  • recognizing and responding to emotions
  • managing frustration
  • understanding personal boundaries
  • understanding nonverbal communication
  • decision making
  • conflict resolution
  • behavioral control
  • Life Skills

    We take a comprehensive approach to helping our students develop life skills—from daily skills such as mobility, mealtime, dressing, personal care (including toileting when necessary), and household jobs—to more complex skills needed to successfully live independently, such as managing finances, meal planning and preparation, and recreational activities. The development of life skills is integrated into the curriculum and all activities. Our teachers collaborate closely with occupational, physical, speech therapists, and social workers.
    The facility at Saint Catherine Academy includes a Life Skills Apartment with a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and washer/dryer. Activities in the apartment, such as making the bed, setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, and preparing food give students the opportunity to learn and practice in an environment similar to home.
    • Personal care
    • Recreation and leisure time—exercise, games, social interaction
    • Community participation through activities such as grocery shopping, using the public library, and taking public transportation
    • Money management—budgeting and banking
    • Culinary skills—planning and preparing meals, appliance safety, and nutrition
    • Housework and basic home maintenance
    • Technology—using the telephone, internet, tablets, and computers
    • Transportation

    Health & Wellness

    Making healthy choices is emphasized through discussion of diet, exercise, personal care, cleanliness, and other topics, such as bullying, social skills development, and community awareness. Students are assessed in each of these areas and instruction is individualized to their developmental needs. Physical Education instruction includes both individual and group goals and activities, ranging from athletic and social skills to weight management.

    We address healthy eating through our culinary and nutrition program. Students discuss healthy food choices, and plan menus accordingly. They shop for the food, prepare it in the Apartment kitchen, and eat their meal family-style. Finally, they clean up to maintain a clean and healthy space for food preparation.

    Our health curriculum is integrated with the Life Skills Program and the related therapeutic services of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech & Language Therapy.

    Creative Arts

    Creative Arts have a fundamental place in the curriculum at Saint Catherine Academy. Cognitive ability does not affect each student’s enjoyment because the Creative Arts transcend cognitive limitations and developmental delays. Through art, music, and movement, students have the opportunity for self expression and are encouraged to “find their inner artist.”
    During art class each week, students use multiple mediums to learn self-expression. Themes from the academic curriculum, such as geography, science, nature and even math are integrated into the program. Students learn about artists and their work, such as Van Gogh and Chihuly.

    Students develop their fine motor skills, learn how to focus and follow directions, and understand that there are many ways to “do art.” The artwork that is created has a personality as unique as each individual.
    Music can be a powerful tool for individuals with disabilities. In weekly music sessions, different types of music are introduced. Besides enjoyment, benefits include improved cognitive functioning and gross motor skills, reduction of anxiety, and the joy of self-expression. From singing attendance or the day-of-the-week to performing in the annual Christmas Pageant, our students learn the joy of music and expression through song.
    We partner with ASD Fitness Center to provide weekly movement and fitness classes. Students build strength and flexibility while learning to follow instructions and enjoy playing as a team.


    Increased independence for our students in the activities of daily living—in school, at home, and in the community—is the goal of all of our therapeutic services. Occupational, Physical, and Speech & Language Therapy is provided according to each student’s individualized education plan (IEP). The assessment is made by Academy staff in consultation with parents and public school personnel as appropriate. All therapists work one-on-one and in small groups with teaching staff.
    Occupational therapists work with students to help them use adaptive and self-modulating strategies to regulate sensory input and improve motor and impulse control. Our onsite Therapy Room and Life Skills Apartment are used for direct instruction and practice of skills like cooking, personal care, and doing laundry.
    Goals for physical therapy address mobility, range of motion, strength, endurance, and balance—as well as safety in the school environment and community. These goals are coordinated with the teaching staff and reinforced throughout the school day.
    Our Speech program is designed to develop and enhance communication skills so that students can successfully interact and participate in activities across a variety of settings. Our goal is to provide a total communication approach. Social skills and functional language lessons are taught through individual sessions and in small groups.

    Building language skills is an integral part of the curriculum, reinforced by all staff in the classroom and community, and at vocational sites. In addition to spoken and written words, communication strategies for non-verbal students include sign language and assistive technology—such as Voice Output Devices (VODs), tablets, and computer software.