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College Disability Programs

From time to time the Special Services Department will post media articles and professional presentations about programs and services that might be of interest to college-bound WMRHSD students with disabilities. This information is being provided as an information service to parents, guardians and students and is in no way to be interpreted as a district endorsement of a particular program.

Contact your local Guidance Office to learn about the support programs and resources available at a specific college or university.

Should you come across an article that you think might be of interest to other parents / guardians, please forward a copy to the webmaster.

College Is Possible For Students With Intellectual Disabilities. New Support Programs and Federal Funds Can Help Students With Intellectual Disabilities. (US News, February 13, 2009)

Students With Learning Disabilities Get Help With College. College Living Experience Helps Students With Learning Disabilities Pursue their Dreams of Higher Ed. (US News, February 24, 2009)

Stepping Up to The Challenge (New York Times, April 19, 2009)

The following article, written by Laura Bruno, appeared in the June 28, 2010 issue ofThe Daily Record:

College program in NJ welcomes Morris Township student with Down syndrome

Morris Township NJ -- Benjamin Dorne has seen his two brothers go off to college and it never occurred to him that he wouldn't attend as well. He isn't worried about living on his own, instead he's anxious that he'll be sad to leave college when he's done.

Dorne, 21, who has Down syndrome, will attend The College of New Jersey this fall, a member of the fifth incoming class of the college's Career & Community Studies, a four-year certificate program for adults with intellectual disabilities.

"My goal is to challenge myself and to be like my brothers,'' said Dorne, who was wearing the TCNJ t-shirt he received with his acceptance letter. "I want to get a job and get married.''

Dorne and classmate Patti Lillman, 21, of Byram, are two graduates of the Chatham-based ECLC of New Jersey, a private school for children with disabilities, who will attend TCNJ's program this fall.

The only program of its kind in the state, the CCS program mixes a liberal arts education with training for employment and independent life skills. Each semester, Dorne and Lillman will take one typical TCNJ college course along with three designed for CCS students. Over the four years they will do internships on and off campus tailored to their career interests.

Helping them along the way will be not only professors, but other typical TCNJ student mentors who will live them and attend classes with them. The CCS students will be living in off-campus housing learning how to live independently without their parents.

"I'm a little bit nervous, scared and excited all together,'' said Lillman, who also has developmental delays. "I never thought I would be going away to college.''

Lillman said she's interested in learning about history and literature, subjects she didn't get to learn much about in high school, she said. She also wants to continue refining her watercolor and acrylic painting skills.

"Not every student wants to go to college and not every college student graduates,'' said Rebecca Daley, director of the CCS program. "But we think it's only right that there is that option. We don't want to make the assumption that these students won't want that opportunity past K-12.''

The TCNJ program graduated its first class this May. The program accepted its first six students in September 2006 with seed money from Steve and Laura Riggio, of Bernardsville. Steve Riggio is vice chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc. He and his wife funded the CCS venture in memory of their late daughter, Melissa, who had Down syndrome.

Of the six graduates, four have jobs lined up ranging from being a designer for Michael's crafts stores to working for a food service provider, Daley said. This fall, the program will welcome its largest incoming class of 10 students, for a total of 30 students in the program.

Dorne's mother, Leslie Skurla, said that when her middle son was born and she received his diagnosis she had hopes that one day he would attend college. Skurla said her family never treated him differently and never put a limit on what he could do.

"To think a generation before him, people were institutionalized,'' Skurla said. "This is a culmination of 21 years of education and therapies and everything he's done. I am so thrilled he has this opportunity ... By not setting limits he's surprised us all in what he can do.''

It's a significant commitment that they are taking seriously, at $10,000 a semester in addition to paying for off-campus housing and food, Skurla said. Despite being worried about her son, she also believes that he can handle it. He communicates well, reads and knows how to ask for help, she said.

His teacher at ECLC agreed.

"He tries his best when asked to do anything,'' said Gail Frey, who taught him in the ECLC graduate program this year. "He has strong liberal arts skills, he's a good writer and he's able to speak up for himself. He'll definitely be able to communicate his thoughts and feelings.''

For Daley, Dorne was a good match for the program because he wants to attend college.

"He was motivated and he could articulate why he wanted to be in college,'' Daley said.

An avid New York Jets and Los Angeles Lakers fan, Dorne loves to play basketball
and said he hopes to be involved with sports on campus. He also looks forward to making new friends and learning to live on his own, he said. He wants to continue some of the art and music skills he was learning at ECLC -- he practices singing pop and hip hop songs daily, as well as how to cook for himself.

He's been practicing to set his alarm every morning to get ready for class on time and to do his own laundry, his mother said.

Dorne said his motto is "Get it done.''

"I'm going to keep studying hard and keep up my good work in sports,'' Dorne said.

Skurla said she's seen her two other sons off to college: Max, 22, who graduated from Cornell University, and Harry, 19, a sophmore at Stevens Institute of Technoloy, and knew they could take care of themselves. With Benjamin, she knows there are going to be a lot of anxious moments, but he needs to be out from under her supervision so he can put his skills into practice in the real world, she said.

"You're going to call mom every night, right?'' Skurla asked her son.

"Yes, mom, that depends if I'm busy,'' he answered.

Laura Bruno: 973-428-6626;
lbruno@gannett.com

To learn more about The College of New Jersey’s Career and Community Studies program, email dailey@tcnj.com