The Demonstration Program Housed within the Ben Samuels Children’s Center, is the Demonstration Program, an NJ Public-College-Operated Program for the Disabled (NJ Administrative Code 6a:14-7.1(a). This is a unique special education program for preschool age children with pervasive developmental delays that is guided by a framework that is responsive to individual differences, stresses affective development, independence and interdependence, and is consistent with quality early childhood educational practice.
Each child with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is included in one of four preschool classrooms. Each of these classrooms is led by a certified early childhood educator and has an enrollment of up to 18 children ages 3-5. There are a maximum number of four students with IEP’s enrolled in each class as part of The Demonstration Program.
Their membership and participation within the classroom are supported by a team of certified and/or licensed personnel and paraprofessionals. This group of professionals works as a trans-disciplinary team sharing responsibilities and mutually training team members by sharing their expertise. Team members release their roles to one another so that responsibilities of one discipline (e.g. Speech-Language Specialist) become embedded in those of another (e.g. Early Childhood Educator).
A non-teaching principal who is responsible for administration and supervision of the program is also a member of the staff.
Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals and strategies are embedded into the classroom routines and activities. Related services are delivered within the context of the child’s classroom schedule. There are 180 school days for the Demonstration Program. These days run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and Wednesday 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Professional development, classroom planning and team collaboration occur from 12:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons. An Extended School Year of 30 days is also a part of the Demonstration Program.
During the Extended School Year, the school day runs Monday through Thursday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and classroom planning and team collaboration occurs between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
What services are available for preschool children with special needs?
The Ben Samuels Children’s Center is approved by the New Jersey Department of Education as a school providing special education services. It has four inclusive pre-school classrooms. Each of these classrooms can accommodate up to 18 children. Up to four children in each class may have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). These classrooms are mixed-age for children three to five years of age and are led by an early childhood teacher and a teaching assistant. A support team provides both direct services to the children with IEPs as well as consultation and support to the classroom team. This support team is made up of a special educator, school psychologist, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, a physical therapist, music therapist and interactive storyteller. Accommodations are made as necessary and additional support is added to the classroom to meet a child’s individual needs. The Center works closely with Child Study Team members from the child’s school district and with any other professionals who are involved with the child in order to create a complementary cohesive plan.
Individualized learning goals and instructional strategies are developed for each child by the support team, classroom team and family. The goals are addressed within developmentally appropriate routines and activities that include “Floor Time” and semi-structured activities in the context of the inclusive pre-school day.
“Floor Time” begins by the adult observing the child and then entering the activity by following the child’s lead. The child’s response closes the circle of communication. The objective is to help a child string together significant numbers of circles of communication that have high affective interaction and help a child reach developmentally appropriate levels of functional emotional development.
In semi-structured segments the adult structures the activity in order to extend and expand learning. The adult remains watchful of “teachable moments” when the child’s interest will be given precedence over planned objectives.
The school day also includes various sensory motor activities that address processing abilities and strength necessary for enjoyment and learning. These activities are conducted in the classroom, the gym and outside.
Interactions within the classroom, in the gym and on the playground are engineered to acknowledge each child’s readiness for relationships (i.e., one adult with one child, two adults with two children, one adult with two children and so on up to the possibility of six or more children in a small group sharing interest and enjoying engagement in activities such as story, music, dance, gross motor, crafts, sensory or pretend play).
Related services such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy are infused or integrated into the learning environments. Therapists work alongside the classroom staff to address identified goals while engaging the child in classroom activities. The classroom staff and therapists work together creating and implementing strategies to support the child’s development. The classroom staff then uses these strategies throughout the day even when the therapist is not present in the room.
Challenging behaviors are viewed as communication. The staff works together with families to assess the contributing factors which may include but are not limited to medical factors, family stressors, sensory needs as well as frustration regarding communication challenges. Families and staff members work together to problem solve and develop plans to make necessary accommodations to support each child’s needs. Discipline means “teaching” not punishment (Touchpoints, Berry Brazelton, M.D., 1992). The goal for discipline is to encourage the development of internally disciplined individuals who eventually make decisions as independent thinkers regarding their own behavior. Helping a child be in control of his or her own behavior results in higher self-esteem.
Families are welcome to have a tour of The Center to observe the inclusive preschool classrooms in action.
Screening for enrollment typically begins with the Child Study Team Case Manager contacting the School Director for an appointment.
In the event that a child has identified special needs, is attending the Center but is not attending the Center for implementation of an IEP, the Center responds to the child based on our philosophy and curriculum. Sometimes the child may need additional support for successful participation. In these cases, we talk with the family about a Special Buddy. This service might be provided as part of the child’s IEP, paid for by the family or subsidized in part through a small grant in the University Foundation.