Students Getting Stronger with Fitness Friday

Male student doing pullups at Westbridge AcademyFitness Friday is an innovative new program designed to engage students in building strength, both inside and out.

Offered to middle and high school students as part of the physical education curriculum, the program allows teens to plan personal fitness goals, and use the school’s new fitness room to achieve them.

Although the workouts are an individual endeavor, students are learning good sportsmanship and social cooperation, as they work out with and cheer on classmates.

Female high school student on treadmill at Westbridge AcademyIn addition to the obvious strength building, the fitness center also helps students use and strengthen social and emotional skills, such as self-management and responsible decision-making. “We want to instill self-confidence in the students in that they are able to develop attainable goals and reach them,” said Jason Winhold, Physical Education teacher.

WBA’s 5th Annual “PASTABILITIES” is coming!


“Bridges to Home” Family Partnership Program Presents:
Our 5th Annual “PASTABILITIES”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018
NOW Monday, February 12, 2018 – 6:00PM—7:30PM

Westbridge Academy
60 West St.
Bloomfield, NJ 07003


Family Dinner Night Including Dessert and “Drum Circle” with Rich E. (WBA Music Teacher).

Registration is required due to limited seating. Families of Westbridge Academy students ONLY. Please contact Joan Bardi @ 973.429.8110 Ext. 114. RSVP by February 2nd

Workshop: Social and Emotional Learning for Students with Disabilities

Workshop: Social and Emotional earning for Studetns with Disabilities

Workshop: Social and Emotional Learning for Students with Disabilities

Featuring Featuring Erin Bruno, MA

Friday, March 16, 2018, 9:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Westbridge Academy Auditorium
60 West Street, Bloomfield, NJ 07003

Download the Event Flyer


Networking lunch follows the event

Register for the Workshop Now

Presentation Description:

In this presentation, we will explore concrete strategies for emotional regulation, respectful communication and prosocial problem solving. Attendees will learn how to develop strategies for ‘overlearning’ so youth have access to skills under stress.

Attendees will learn:

  • The vital importance of social and emotional learning.
  • How to develop skills for “overlearning”.
  • The difference between knowledge and skill.
  • How to teach skills for emotional regulation and respectful communication.
  • How to teach skills for prosocial problem solving.

About Our Presenter:

Erin Bruno is the Coordinator for Rutgers, the State University’s Behavioral Health Care Social Decision Making/Problem Solving Program and faculty member of the Social Emotional Learning Academy. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, conflict resolution, and anger management. A sought-after speaker, she has presented at many conferences across the United States and has assisted in writing and publishing the Social Decision Making and Problem Solving Curriculums. She has worked extensively with administrators, teachers, mental health professionals, parents and students.

Register for the Workshop Now
For additional information contact Contact Portia Wiggins, 973-429-8110 ext. 143, or email

Social and Emotional Problem-Solving

This fall, School Principal, Dr. Anthony Hadzimichalis brought the entire staff together – classroom teachers, clinical staff, aides, specialists and administrators – to review the new competencies, and ensure that measurable social and emotional learning objectives are front and center in the curriculum.

Social Emotional Learning benefits graphic buttons

“We want staff to develop cross curricular problem-based learning (PBL) units grounded in what our students experience every day,” said Dr. Hadzimichalis.

Social Emotional learning training for teachers at Westbridge Academy

The entire staff at Westbridge received training in Social and Emotional Learning.

“Many of our students are socially ‘clumsy,’ and they may inadvertently ‘trip and stumble’ over school rules and social norms every day,” said Hadzimichalis. “Whether it is because they lack knowledge about the social rules, lack the self-management skills or misinterpret social situations – it is our job as educators to teach them a new set of skills, and a new way of being and seeing.”

Westbridge Academy students working on math together

Activities may look like games, but these opportunities for social learning result from careful and deliberate planning and through the use of clear assessment tools,” said Dr. Hadzimichalis. “Our task is to make the learning fun and natural so the skills can better generalize.

Through innovative, hands-on experiential in-service programs, Westbridge staff learn how to teach SEL skills by intentionally creating “teachable moments’ through interdisciplinary projects, presentations, games and physical education.

Staff met in cross-curricular groups to design lesson plans around problem-based learning, and to create a rubric as an assessment tool.

Westbridge Academy Director Receives Award for Leadership & Exemplary Service

Director Viviana Litovsky with WBA studentDr. Viviana Litovsky, Director at Westbridge Academy, has been awarded the 2017 ASAH President’s Award for her exemplary leadership and commitment to special education. Each year, ASAH selects a leader in the special education community who has made a lasting, positive impact on students, families and the community.

Driven by a lifelong passion to seek positive change in people’s lives, Dr. Litovsky has been helping students and families at Westbridge Academy since 1981. As the school’s Director, she collaborates with staff to establish innovative and effective programs for students, producing the positive outcomes and preparing them for successful transition beyond high school.

“Viviana exemplifies everything we strive for in leadership, compassion, educational and clinical excellence, and commitment to diversity,” said Dr. Steven Morse, President of ASAH, a statewide association of more than 150 state approved special education schools.

Showing Up: Attendance Matters at Westbridge Academy

Students arriving for school at Westbridge AcademyStudents simply cannot learn if they are not in school. That is why leaders at Westbridge Academy take attendance seriously.

“On most days, the number of students absent from Westbridge Academy is in the single digits – and many of those are excused absences for reasons such as medical appointments or illness,“said School Principal, Dr. Anthony Hadzimichalis. Data show the school has a 90-93% daily attendance rate.

In an average month, more than 1/3 of Westbridge students have perfect attendance – a remarkable statistic since research shows rates of chronic absenteeism are higher among economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

Westbridge takes this challenge on by understanding and addressing the root causes.

“The literature shows that students who miss school often stay home to avoid bullying, unsafe conditions, harassment and embarrassment, so we work hard to make sure that our school culture and climate reflects our core values, and that all students feel safe and respected,” Dr. Hadzimichalis added. “We truly are a “bully-free zone” and students know it.”

In other schools, students with social, emotional and behavioral disabilities routinely experience suspension at a higher rate than non-disabled peers, so leaders at Westbridge Academy minimize the use of such action.

“Students come to us for reasons of behavior and social challenges- they need to be here to learn. We work hard to avoid suspension of any kind whenever possible,” he said.

Sometimes, conditions directly related to a student’s disability – health and sleep issues, doctor appointments, and surgery – could cause absences.

“When our students experience illness, whether it is mental or physical, we provide coordination and wrap-around support to minimize the impact of school absence and ensure that the student is back in class as soon as possible,“ concluded Hadzimichalis.

Five Tips for Caregivers

Holidays and family gatherings can be stressful, here are a few ideas to help make the time a little easier on everyone:

1. Take a break.

Decide on a ‘code word’ your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed during holiday activities and needs a break. Assure your child if he or she uses the code word, you will respond right away. Giving children some control during activities that may be over stimulating for them will reduce anxiety.

2. Keep expectations reasonable.

We tend to have high expectations for the holidays and want them to be “perfect” family times. Don’t get frustrated if the occasions don’t go as planned.

3. Regroup.

If your child cannot handle a large family event on a certain day, plan something special just for your family and enjoy the time alone.

4. Make lists.

Getting the constant chatter and lists out of your head decreases stress and anxiety. Kids love making lists. Give them a clipboard or dry erase board. Help your child make a list of what they want to do for the holiday. It might be helping decorate or what to pack for traveling.

5. Make a “Go-Bag” for relaxation.

Work with your child to fill a bag or backpack with things that they enjoy and that help them relax and feel good. Bring it when you go on family outings, car rides or shopping.

Oh! The Places They Will Go!

2017 Graduates of Westbridge Academy

2017 Graduates of Westbridge Academy, from l-r, Al-Raheem S., Aaron R., Beckia M., Cory H. and Derrick D.

Last June, five students at Westbridge Academy stepped up to accept a diploma and stepped out into the world. Each one of these young people left Westbridge with plans for the future, and the connections needed to make them happen. Four of the five graduates were headed for community college, and two of those students were recipients of scholarships to help advance their post secondary dreams.

Aaron R. was awarded the Joe Gorga Transition to Adult Life Scholarship from the Alliance of Private Special Education Schools of North Jersey. His application included letters of recommendation and an acceptance letter from Bergen Community College for admission into their Applied Science and Business Administration Management Program.

“Aaron embodies values we promote here at Westbridge Academy which include respect, intelligence, discipline and most of all a belief in oneself,” said Abraham Mathew, Assistant Principal.

Graduate Cory H. was awarded an ASAH Scholarship. Selected from a highly competitive field of applicants, he received his award during Special Education Week, an event co-sponsored by the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“As a talented candidate for college, Cory will bring a strong work ethic, honorable leadership qualities, and valuable contributions to the school’s culture and community, a positive attitude and, most importantly, an eagerness to always do his best,” said Dr. Hadzimichalis.

From Learning to Read, to Reading to Learn

Students who come to Westbridge Academy are typically referred for social, emotional and behavioral difficulties. Many times, these same students also have a history of academic difficulties that are rooted in reading disabilities or delays.

When a new student arrives, educators begin by assessing reading levels, and designing an instructional plan to move them from where they are, to where they need to be. Most students can be supported through intensive reading instruction in the classroom, but some need more help, and that is where Academic Support Coordinator, Milena Sillett comes in.

Milena Sillett, Academic Support Coordinator

Working one-on-one with her students, Milena uses Orton-Gillingham-based instructional strategies, building skills… and confidence. She begins with a detailed assessment to identify skill levels, and then personalizes a plan that includes a combination of games, drills and repetition, and other activities to build awareness of sounds, blends and “rules for reading.” Because multisensory learning is very important for students at Westbridge, Milena also uses hands-on activities with sand, play dough and locking ‘Unitex’ letter blocks.

“Our students need a lot of modeling and visual cues. As they are learning to read, they are also learning to follow directions, use a ‘system’ for learning, and stay on task. We are with them every step of the way, and build a firm foundation before we move on – limiting the opportunities for frustration and failure.”
– Milena Sillett

The change can be transformative. One student, C.P., could read only a handful of sight words when the school year began. It was a huge source of frustration and anxiety for him. Now, he is reading 10 sentences and is incredibly proud of his accomplishments.

Many of Milena’s younger students who are close to grade level can get back on track quickly with early intensive intervention. “We can actually prevent academic failure in the future,” she said. “Once that foundation is in place, they can bring it into the classroom.”

Milena works with the classroom teacher to “pre-teach” content so students are ready for new words and concepts that will be introduced in other subjects, allowing them to experience success.