Friday, February 25, 2011

College of New Jersey uses federal grant to encourage students with intellectual disabilities to attend college

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The College of New Jersey, backed by a $1.28 million federal grant, is working with state high schools to spread a hopeful message to students with intellectual disabilities: College is possible.

TCNJ's Career and Community Studies (CCS) program, which offers a four-year certificate for students with a range of intellectual disabilities, including autism, Williams syndrome, and Down syndrome, has partnered with the Haddonfield and Hopewell Valley Regional School Districts to encourage such students and their families to consider a college education.

"Students with intellectual disabilities have never had that put before them," said Rebecca Daley, director of CCS. "College is something your siblings might do, but it was never an option."

TCNJ plans to invite about 100 families from across the state to an April 2 conference on higher-education options for students with intellectual disabilities, according to Richard Blumberg, a co-founder of the program.

The gathering is intended to help families and educators learn about college programs, and aid them in developing a vision and plan for kindergarten through 12th grade with post-graduation education as a goal.

"I see this as a brave new frontier of special education, and I think we'll see a lot of two-year, four-year programs develop over the next few years," Blumberg said.

The CCS program, developed in 2005 with aid from the National Down Syndrome Society, supports the learning and adaptive needs of students ages 18 to 25, in part through peer mentoring, pre-teaching, and classroom learning aids. Its inaugural class of six students graduated last spring. The class size has since increased to nine.

Students in the CCS program take courses as varied as marketing, health and exercise science, and women's and gender studies.

"What we're finding is that the students, when they're given support, they do well," Daley said. "Maybe not competitively well, but they're walking away from that class with the big ideas and concepts, a new understanding of the topic."

Bonni Rubin-Sugarman, director of special education for Haddonfield schools, said the prospect of students with intellectual disabilities having many of the same opportunities as other students their age is a major step forward.

"If we can do this now in the same place, the same environment where typical 18- to 22-year-olds are spending their time doing this next chunk of life," she said, "that's a home run."