The Academy of Continuing Education (ACE), a new program offering continuing education courses to adults with developmental and/or physical disabilities, is now enrolling students for its fall classes, slated to begin Sept. 8, 2014.
While the summer after high school brings a sense of excitement about the future for most graduates, those with developmental disabilities have a much different road ahead when planning for their future., according to Marguerite Modero, ACE director. Their options often are limited to generic day programs that do not offer the intellectual stimulation and growth provided by the educational setting they just left, she said.
In response, Community Access Unlimited, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities, founded the Academy of Continuing Education. The academy is open to adults of all ages with developmental and/or physical disabilities. The program is ideal for recent graduates from a public school system or specialized school and who desire to continue their education or for adults who have a desire to sharpen previously learned skills. Class sizes are small so individual attention can be given to each student and classes are tailored to individuals’ abilities, according to Modero.
The academy, which began in January as a pilot program for CAU members, is unique in that it offers a new opportunity for those recently graduated to explore their academic, artistic and business pursuits, Modero said. In addition to being the academy's director Modero is the mother of a daughter with cognitive disabilities. Having walked in their shoes, Modero understands the concerns of parents who are navigating the system
“I remember how upsetting it was to see the lack of choices that were available to my daughter upon graduation,” said Modero. “When she started going to a day program shortly after graduation she was thrown into a world that was vastly different from the day-to-day life she had known. It was shocking for her, and for us to see that she was doing piecework when had once dreamed of becoming a child care professional. The adjustment was difficult and she was vastly different from the vibrant young woman I knew that June after graduation.”
That is why it is so important to have opportunities available such as those being provided by the academy, she added.
“It provides a graduate with the option to stay in an academic setting that encourages higher behavioral standards and offers continued opportunities for learning, allowing them to ease into the demands of living life as an adult with disabilities," she said. "I’m ecstatic that CAU has finally filled the void that is giving people the chance to continue in an educational environment.
The curriculum offers students a full week’s worth of choices, and includes courses in reading comprehension, math, career planning, theatre, history and even a jewelry design and merchandising class The ACE program will also add a brand new Media & TV class in partnership with local high schools.
Tonya Hopson loves history and was a student during all three semesters of the pilot.
“I started to remember a lot of things from when I was in school," she said. "History was my best subject and I really liked studying about the Plymouth Settlement. The archeology dig we did was fun, kind of like a treasure hunt. That would be an interesting job to have.”
Hopson also took the Jewelry & Merchandising class and hopes to continue this fall.
“I do other types of crafts like rubber band bracelets on my own but this was really fun and challenging to make professional earrings, necklaces and rings with beads and wire," she said. "It was even better when we put up our display and sold some of what we made.”
Classes are aligned to the state Core Curriculum Content Standards and foster appropriate learning opportunities. ACE students may take as many courses as they wish and in any combination. Each class is held once a week for two hours during the eight-week semester. ACE is a NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities qualified program. Pricing is affordable and classes can be purchased through different funding sources. Acceptance is based on completion from a public or special needs school and an in-person meeting and evaluation with Modero.
ACE is the latest offering of CAU, which for 35 years has provided support programs and services to people with disabilities and youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
Parents and caretakers who are struggling to figure out the next step for their loved one are encouraged to reach out to Modero to learn more. For a complimentary information packet and admission form contact Modero at 908.354.3040, ext 275, or William Busch, director of membership development, at 908.354.3040, ext 280. The Academy of Continuing Education is a New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities-approved program. A full course catalogue can be found on the Community Access Unlimited website at www.caunj.org under “Supports & Services.”