College receives grant to develop Down syndrome program

The College and Mercer County Community College (MCCC) were each recently awarded $50,000 grants from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

As part of the three-year grant, the College will help develop a program for students ages 18 to 25 with cognitive disabilities and/or Down syndrome so that they can “participate in post-secondary education (where they) are more likely to excel in academics, employment and life,” according to an NDSS press release.

The first year of the grant, the 2005-2006 academic year, will be used as a planning year, while the following two will be “operational years” according to the NDSS grant proposal form.

Rebecca Daley, adjunct professor in the Special Education, Language and Literacy department, and project manager of the NDSS grant, said that while both the College’s program and MCCC’s programs will have similarities, there will be differences because MCCC will have more of a transitional program for students who have not yet graduated from high school.

The College’s program, on the other hand, will involve two tracks, for both transitional and post-secondary students, Daley said.

She said there will be four main components to the College’s model program: academics, vocation, social and communication/recreation, and independent life skills.

The College hopes to have a starter class of about six to eight students for its first year and then expand to a total of 15 students in the next two years.

Daley said the program is “very innovative for a four-year college” and that the College wants to “make this program affordable and accessible because there are so few programs for people with cognitive disabilities after high school.”

She said she hopes to accomplish what is her and NDSS’ ultimate goal: to achieve enough success with the model program that it can be used at other colleges as well.

She also said she would like the program to be “a community experience where both students from the College and students with disabilities can come together and learn from one another.”

“It’s a great idea because it provides opportunities for those students with cognitive disabilities who might go straight into the job market, to experience educational opportunities that may not have been previously open to them,” Lindsay Gelay, junior deaf and elementary education/English major, said.

Michael Crahel, freshman English major, agreed. “All the components that are addressed in the program seem like they would better help people to overcome their disabilities,” he said.

Claire O’Brien, senior communication studies major, said as a result of the program, she’d like “to see the participants find a greater sense of self-reliance and independence.”

The grant was given by the Riggio family, which has a 17-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome, in Bernardsville. The family’s mission, as stated in the National Down Syndrome Society’s proposal form, is for “all people with Down Syndrome (to) have the opportunity to realize their life aspirations.”