ESCNJ Expansion to Support Independent Living Skills

A 50,000 square foot expansion to ESCNJ schools to help additional students strengthen independent living skills is well underway. Credits: Educational Services Commission Of New Jersey

PISCATAWAY, NJ – Construction is underway at the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey’s (ESCNJ) Piscataway Campus for a 50,000 square foot addition to provide more space to help additional higher functioning classified students meet the challenges of independent living, announced commission officials.

A major influence for the expansion project is the trend towards classified students residing in smaller living quarters as opposed to large group homes, said ESCNJ Superintendent Mark J. Finkelstein.

“The move to smaller living quarters for some classified students behooves organizations like ours to expand our capacity to help more students strengthen their independent living skills to the fullest extent possible,” said Finkelstein.

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For many years, primarily through its Community-based Instruction (CBI) program, students have worked on learning the functional living skills necessary for living and working independently, said officials.  The program has included meal preparation, house cleaning, minor repair work, safe use of household equipment and appliances, along with job sampling opportunities, use of public transportation and appropriate behavior.

“The CBI program is already a proven support to students, so it makes sense to expand its capacity, a recommendation unanimously endorsed by our Board of Directors, and supported by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders,” Finkelstein said.

According to business administrator Patrick M. Moran, ESCNJ facilities are currently filled to 90 percent capacity.

“We’re already digging out the footprint while the weather is warm, and intend to complete the project to meet anticipated enrollment increases by 2019,” said Moran.

The addition will include a culinary kitchen, horticultural opportunities, 12 classrooms fully equipped for digital resources, a gymnasium, and fitness area. 

The flexibility provided by the expansion also allows standardization of CBI programs for ESCNJ and shared time students participating from other districts, officials said.

“To date our schools have run similar but independent CBI programs,” Finkelstein said. “We have reached the stage where the program requires uniformity, which is why the board approved our request to create a CBI supervisor position. I am delighted to promote Raissa Prus to the positon, as she has been an integral part of the growth of our CBI program for over two decades.”

Prus’ accomplishments include building dozens of relationships with community employers who offer job sampling opportunities to students. The job sampling partnerships include Rutgers University, ShopRite, Walgreens, Burger King, in addition to International American Supermarkets, Elijah’s Promise, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and T.J. Maxx.

The expansion will also include training space with a 300-seat capacity that can accommodate advanced technology.  The training area will be available for community use, and enable the ESCNJ to host comprehensive educational programs, and attract notable speakers.

The Educational Services Commission of New Jersey operates six Middlesex County schools for students ages 3-21 with autism, moderate to severe disabilities, and at-risk behaviors, and extends special education services to school districts statewide.

The largest educational services commission in the state, the ESCNJ also coordinates transportation services for over 10,000 students across New Jersey and manages a co-op pricing system with over 1,100 members, the largest cooperative buying program in the state.

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