By Sena Pottackal
CCC Journalism Program

BLACKWOOD – Camden County College now offers a transitional education program for students with an intellectual disability called the Garden State Pathways. It gives students who go through the program a leg up on the competition when looking for employment.

The Garden State Pathways program is funded by a federal grant from the Department of Education. The grant has created requirements that determine which students are eligible candidates. Students must fulfill their high school requirements, must be 18 or older and must have had either an IEP or IDA funding during high school. Camden County applied with Bergen County College for this grant. Together they plan to cover the entire intellectually challenged population in New Jersey.

The program began in October 2010. The program’s coordinator, Bernadette Gismonde, was hired in May. Its first group of students started this semester.

Eight students are participating in the program. These students will complete a two-year program together. Different tracks are offered based on their career choice, such as business and allied health.

GSP students attend class Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. They are in class 19 hours a week and do work study for six hours. They complete their hours of work study by volunteering on campus in different areas, such as the book store, the cafeteria, the library, or the day care center, where they can learn job skills. They take four classes this semester. College success and yoga are integrated with other students from the college. Business math is not an integrated class. Neither is their computer literacy in a digital age class, but because of lack of space, the class is held in the computer lab. Often, other students are in the lab while this class is in session.

Gismonde says she “likes integration because it shows these other students that there are a group of intellectually challenged students who are learning and trying to put their best foot forward in order to be at college.”

A majority of the feedback about this program is positive. The students say they like the program very much. Gismonde is well received by the students.

“I like that I have a friend named Bernadette who helps me,” says Ashley S, a 21-year-old Seneca High School graduate.

Despite these glowing reviews from the students, not everyone is on board.

“Some fear that Camden County is watering down the college atmosphere, watering down the academics because they think that these students will get an associate’s degree although that is not the case,”Gismonde says.

Gismonde tries to reassure skeptics that the objective of the program is to award these students with a certificate of achievement following completion of the program to help them in their quest for employment.

To learn about similar programs, go to Thinkcollege.com.

Bernadette Gismonde coordinates the Garden State Pathways program. By Sena Pottackal, CCC Journalism Program

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