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The ESCNJ Announces Expansion Of Independent Living Program For Special Needs Students

Boxes folded and delivered to Zia Lisa pizzeria. The ESCNJ is expanding its Community-based Instruction program to help more higher functioning classified students prepare for independent living. Credits: Photo Courtesy of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey

Construction of a 50,000 square foot addition to help greater numbers of higher functioning classified students transition to independent living was approved April 28 by the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ) Board of Directors.

The addition will connect to the NuView Academy Annex on the ESCNJ’s Piscataway Campus. The project is expected to be operational for the September 2019-2020 school year, at a cost not to exceed $20 million.

“For several years, primarily through our Community-based Instruction program, we have helped many students acquire the functional living skills necessary for living and working independently,” said ESCNJ Superintendent Mark J. Finkelstein.

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“However, with the trend continuing to move from large group homes in favor of smaller living environments for this population, it has become clear that the future of special education rests in the ability of organizations like ours to expand our capacity to help more students solidify their independent living skills. Our Board recognized the importance of this initiative, and fully embraced the expansion plan,” Mr. Finkelstein added.

 According to ESCNJ Business Administrator Patrick M. Moran, the ESCNJ facilities are currently filled to 90 percent capacity.

“It is important to begin the expansion project now to accommodate the enrollment increases we anticipate by 2019,” Mr. Moran said.

The new addition will also include a culinary kitchen, horticultural opportunities, a gymnasium and fitness area, and 12 classrooms equipped for comprehensive science and math projects.

A contemporary conference center with advanced technology, and a 300 seat capacity training space, is also part of the expansion.  The conference center will be available for community use, and allow the ESCNJ to host comprehensive educational programs, and attract notable speakers.

“We are starting excavation work immediately, and beginning construction in September, giving us a few months to work before the winter arrives,” said Mr. Moran.

The ESCNJ Board of Directors also approved a Supervisor of Community-

based Instruction position at its recent meeting to manage the expanded program.

 “In the past, schools have operated CBI programs independently,” said Mr. Finkelstein.

“We are now at the stage where we need to standardize the program at each school, and that requires a CBI Supervisor,” Mr. Finkelstein added.

Community-based Instruction is a research based approach to teaching independent living skills and behavior management techniques, primarily geared towards higher functioning classified students, said Assistant Superintendent for Learning/Educational Services Gary Molenaar.   Also offered as a shared time program to districts throughout New Jersey, CBI offerings include:

  •   Pre-vocational workshops - students learn resume writing and job interviewing techniques, and receive training in a simulated work environment in tasks like bagging groceries, folding laundry or sorting materials.
  • Community Education - students learn a range of behavior management techniques to facilitate appropriate behavior in public settings like restaurants, movie theaters or museums; acquire skills to access public transportation, and buy items in places like department and grocery stores.
  • Job Sampling – students learn to adapt to a workplace environment, and identify skills and interests for future employment.

 “Our CBI program is already an extremely successful initiative that continues growing dramatically,” said Mr. Molenaar,  pointing out that ESCNJ schools have established job sampling relationships with over 75 community employers including: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital; Rutgers Athletic Center & Stadium; Marshall’s; TJ Maxx; ShopRite; PetSmart; Burger King; Villagers Theater; TD Bank; Avis and Rainbow Dry Cleaners; Jenkinson’s Aquarium; Sam’s Club; Elijah’s Promise; the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home; the U.S. Postal Service; Franklin Township Food Bank; 99 Cent Depot; Liberty Science Center, Walgreens and others.

The ESCNJ recently announced another independent living initiative called Pathways to Adult Living (PAL), which starts in September 2017.

 “The program is meant to fill the void many 18-21 year-old classified students experience when they complete their high school academic requirements, yet must remain in high school for three more years, while their peers graduate and move on to college or work,” Mr. Molenaar said.

Under the guidance of certified Structured Learning Experience (SLE) faculty, staff, and job coaches, PAL students will begin each day at a newly built storefront on Main Street in downtown Sayreville. Students will spend considerable time reinforcing their independent living skills by participating in the maintenance of the storefront, in addition to cleaning, changing bed sheets and preparing meals.  Safe use of equipment like washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, and microwave ovens will be enhanced, and the program will include a job sampling component in partnership with Sayreville community employers. Time will also be allotted to technology infused functional academic work.

The ESCNJ operates six schools with services for students ages 3-21 with autism, multiple disabilities, and at-risk behaviors, in addition to providing shared services to special education students statewide. The largest Educational Services Commission in New Jersey, the ESCNJ coordinates transportation services for nearly 14,000 students across the state, and manages a 1,100 member Co-op Pricing System, the largest cooperative buying program in New Jersey.         


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