JACKSONVILE, Fla. – As head of the North Florida School for Special Education, Sally Hazelip has been instrumental in changing the way people with special needs are viewed. For her efforts to improve individual lives how the community perceives them, WJXT honored Hazelip on Friday with January's Positively Jax award.
Hazelip has led the school to tremendous growth, doubling the number of students who are assisted by the Arlington-based school. It serves students with a variety of intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, traumatic brain injury and other intellectual disabilities.
In her six years as head of school, Hazelip has encouraged the school to start a variety of new programs, including a food truck to encourage students to understand business, a running club of students who compete in the Gate River Run annually, a culinary arts program, music and art curriculums and a post-graduate program allowing students the opportunity to work at a variety of community businesses such as Publix, Pet Paradise, Burlington Coat Factory and Chick-fil-A.
"The other part of our school is called Berry Good Farms," Hazelip said. "It's our on-campus urban farm. It's a vocational training spot for our students 18-22 and then our post-grad program has the 22 and older students."
Hazelip is a major advocate of "reverse inclusion," which brings typical students from area schools, including St. Marks Episcopal Day School, Jacksonville University, UNF, The Bolles School and Episcopal School of Jacksonville to interact and partner with her students.
Hazelip is now leading the school in a capital campaign to raise $6 million to build a new 32,000-square-foot building for the school, allowing more than 100 additional children with special needs to receive the unique and special education provided by the North Florida School of Special Education.
"Whether you have an intellectual disability or not, being able to look at someone and realize that they have a story, and that their story is as important as anybody else's, and to be able to give them an opportunity to share that," Hazelip said.
Hazelip has already secured a number of donations, including a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver. As the mother of a child with Down syndrome, Sally understands that children with special needs often learn differently and works closely with the teachers and staff of the school to ensure each student's individual learning needs are met so that children can reach their full potential and become contributing members of the Northeast Florida community.