There is no such thing as "one size fits all" when it comes to education. For adults with developmental disabilities looking to continue their academics and job skills training, Community Access Unlimited offers an alternative to traditional day programs.
The new Academy of Continuing Education location opened this week in Roselle. It offered various options to appeal to every type of student, including recent graduates and older adults.
The current hybrid schedule includes virtual and in-person groups this summer so that members may choose the right option.
ACE is reopening after providing virtual services through the pandemic; the new Roselle location offers plenty of space for social distancing, group learning, and activities.
"We're very excited and the members are very excited," said Stacy Marshall, assistant executive director of educational services. You can't replace what it is like to be face-to-face in a shared space with other people. For some, it is going to be like a cloud is lifted."
Student Dianna Simms, 30, has attended ACE since 2014 and took virtual courses in math, reading, music, and visual and digital art. “I wanted more education,” said Simms, who said she likes to encourage others to continue their education on social media.
Simms has a vision impairment and said she appreciates that teachers have worked with her to compensate for that, such as setting her up with a screen reader to enlarge worksheets.
Although she was able to continue her education at home virtually, “I would rather see my friends and my teachers in person,” Simms added.
ACE courses include topics in reading, math, science, music, art, computers, self-help, and more. The academy promotes learning through hands-on activities, and students gain skills that can be applied in developing career interests.
ACE is an NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities-qualified program offered by Community Access Unlimited.
CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that integrates people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.
The academy is flexible to allow students to pursue as many courses as they choose and balance their studies with outside activities such as employment or athletics. Many members are employed, and many engage in community programs such as theater or the Special Olympics.
Marshall stressed that individuals with disabilities and families need to start learning about their post-graduation options early as possible to start planning for a successful future.
A new NJ law extending eligibility for the state’s special education program due to the pandemic is a step in the right direction.
“I think in New Jersey, attention to special education has lacked for some time,” Marshall said. “In some ways [the pandemic] deepened that divide and in some ways, it increased visibility. I think it’s now on folks’ radars that we can and should do better.”
Families and individuals interested in learning more about ACE can reach out to CAU at 908-354-3040 to request a virtual tour and overview of the program.