DREAM Program to Begin Second Year;
Welcomes Incoming Students/Families

6-27-07

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- Jennifer McKeown of Washington Township wants to study drama. Ken Frano of Freehold is interested in computer courses. Both will begin college this fall as part of the innovative DREAM program at Mercer County Community College, which welcomes students with intellectual disabilities.

The grant-funded pilot program, to begin its second year this September, welcomed Jennifer, Ken and six more new students at a reception on June 18, where they met veteran students who began the program last year, and talked with staff and faculty members. Each DREAM student fashions an individual program, taking classes for credit or audit, and working with college students who serve as mentors.

Some of the students who will enter MCCC's innovative DREAM program this fall are, from left, front row, Samantha Orthey, Sarah McCurdy, Ken Frano and James Walker; back row are Danielle Beal, Jennifer McKeown and Jocelyn DiLorenzo. (Samantha DeFreitas is not pictured.)

College programs for the intellectually disabled are a relatively new, but growing concept. The website "ThinkCollege.net" says there are about 100 such programs in the country. According to Dr. Susan Onaitis, DREAM grant coordinator, "Expectations vary, but these students and their family members are seeking academic and personal growth, greater independence and self-confidence."

Students who will begin their second year in MCCC's program have become an integral part of campus life. All of them passed the elective courses they chose to take. "In their first semester they did job shadowing on campus, and during their second semester they did campus internships," Onaitis said. One student shadowed the college's Gallery director and helped put up art exhibits. "Whatever the student wants to do, he or she will be given the opportunity."

The whole college community has embraced this program. A core group of faculty members has supported the effort from its inception, welcoming the students to their classes and giving them an extra level of support. According to one of the veteran students, who pointed to her professor, Dr. Joan Goldstein, "My favorite subject was English -- because of her."

"They can't do enough to support us," Onaitis said. "Everybody has been very helpful."

The Frano family. The McKeown family.

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