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New Program Prepares Special Needs Students For Employment

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Ian Grant operates the Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine under the supervision of Structured Learning Environment Teacher Lindsay Medeiros. Credits: Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey
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2. Nigel Oglesby decorates greeting cards with Classroom Aide Cindy Miller. Credits: Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey
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Structured Learning Environment Teacher Lindsay Medeiros offers guidance to Nigel Oglesby (L) and Adarsh Patel. Credits: Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey
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Ian Grant strengthens his sales skills with Speech Therapist Jennifer Kogan. Credits: Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey
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Adarsh Patel working on a greeting card design for“Greetings Galore & More” Credits: Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey
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 PISCATAWAY-- “Greetings Galore & More,” another Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ) effort to meet its commitment to prepare special needs students for the workforce, was recently launched at its Bright Beginnings Learning Center Secondary (BBLC-Secondary) school.

Through “Greetings Galore & More” students create, assemble and sell greeting cards for all occasions.  Funded through an $800 grant from DonorsChoose.org. students are involved in all aspects of the business, including the operation of a Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine, which is  an electronic die cutting machine equipped with software  for designing  and cutting out

1”x 5 ½” images used  to decorate greeting cards.  The funds were also used to purchase a 12-Drawer Rolling Storage Cart, card stock, inkpad stamps, and a range of decorative stickers.

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The BBLC-Secondary students assemble the materials into professional looking birthday, baby shower, sympathy, holiday and wedding cards. Students also take greeting card orders, complete paperwork, sell cards to classmates, faculty, staff and parents, collect money, and dispense change.

 Students have already sold hundreds of the professional quality greeting cards at $1 each, a significant savings compared with the average $4 charge for commercial greeting cards sold in the $20 billion global greeting card industry.

The “Greetings Galore & More” initiative was conceived by Structured Learning Environment Teacher Lindsay Medeiros, and enthusiastically supported by her colleagues, Classroom Aide Cindy Miller, and Speech Therapist Jennifer Kogan, and BBLC-Secondary Supervisor Sandy Giardino. Within a week, the team wrote a proposal, posted it to the Donors Choose.org website, and secured full funding for the project.

“In addition to the card making skills, students are learning to work collaboratively during the process, an important social skill necessary for employment,” said Mrs. Medeiros.

“The more experience and exposure our students receive in our educational environment, the better chance they have at becoming successful in the work force and in their adult lives,” she added.

The ESCNJ Superintendent Mark J. Finkelstein said “Greetings Galore & More,” is an initiative that works on numerous levels.

“Students are directly involved in all aspects of the business, gain hands-on work experience, learn to work collaboratively, and benefit from the social interaction they have with people when selling the cards,” Mr. Finkelstein said, adding revenue from the card sales help fund extracurricular activities.

Preparing students for employment is a prominent component of the ESCNJ curriculum, rooted in its Community-based Instruction (CBI) program, a research-based approach to functional skill building which is incorporated into each student’s day. All ESCNJ full and part time students are immersed in CBI related activities. Along with in-house activities, students participate in individual and group job sampling and internships through  the job training relationships the ESCNJ has established for over a decade with numerous employers including  Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, Marshall’s, Lowe’s, Elijah’s Promise, TJ Maxx, Burger King, and ShopRite.

Shared time options for students attending their home district, and consultation services to help districts create their own CBI program are also available through the ESCNJ.

Recently the ESCNJ announced plans to begin a Pathways to Adult Living (PAL) program in September 2017, for 18-21 year-old students who have completed their high school academic requirements, yet need independent living skills reinforcement.  Under the guidance of certified Structured Learning Experience faculty, staff, and job coaches, students will begin each day at a newly built storefront on Main Street in downtown Sayreville. The students spend some time on technology infused functional academic work, and several hours reinforcing daily living skills like cleaning, painting, changing bed sheets and preparing meals. Students also learn safe and proper use of washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens. Daily training in accessing public transportation like New Jersey Transit, Access Link, Uber, and Lyft is also part of the program

The ESCNJ operates six schools offering comprehensive services for student’s ages 3-21 with autism, multiple disabilities, and at-risk behaviors, including two schools with on-site clinical support services. The ESCNJ also provides shared services statewide to special needs students. Established in 1977, the ESCNJ is the largest Educational Services Commission in New Jersey, and coordinates transportation services for nearly 14,000 students throughout the state. The ESCNJ also manages the state’s largest cooperative buying program with its Co-op Pricing System, which has over 1,100 members.

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