Do students with learning disabilities get the support they need?

Written by: Dan Asnis

Mercer has a total of 650 of students with unique learning needs. These students have various re- sources within the college, from tutoring to special accommodations, to help them succeed in their academics. The only thing missing is well prepared professors to handle these studentsneeds in class.

The VOICE conducted a survey of 16 professors that showed that most of them have never received any specific training by the college to teach classes with students with learning dis- abilities. When asked how prepared they feel to have these students in class, 62.5 percent of the professors said that they don’t feel prepared.

“It can be difficult sometimes to take the time to provide the one on one attention often needed. The student may feel left behind,” says a professor who prefers to remain anonymous.

First Thirty Coordinator and professor at Mercer, Dr. Amy Vondrak, told The VOICE that the faculty members attend “Professional Development every semester.” Dr. Vondrak also said that students with learning disabilities have been addressed at these Professional Development seminars, but not at every one. “Often times I can’t tell you off the top of my head how often training, specifically for students with learning disabilities has been part of that [Professional development], but I know it has.”

English Professor Dr. Edward Carmien said he participated in some training that “covered broader issues.”

When asked about the impact or implications in class, Dr. Carmien explained that there are few implications, such as, “individuals with behavioral issues plus when the number of students with accommodations rises.”

Some professors, even with no specific training, answered that they somehow handle the situation. “I just have to work harder to see that all students get a fair measure of education,” said Accounting and Business Professor Dr. Ken Horowitz.

Out of class, students with learning disabilities have some services designed to attend their needs. such as the Learning Center and the DREAM program.

Director of Academic Support Services Arlene Stinson explained that “The learning center sees approximately just under 1000 unduplicated students each semester.” The Support Services Learning Center is open to all MCCC students, whether they have a disability or not. Stinson also said that special accommodation can be provided upon proper documentation.

“If the students choose to access support and provide us with documentation from a qualified professional, we can provide academic accommodations including sign language interpreters, extended time for testing, access to calculator and word processor and alternate test formats,” explained Stinson.

Mercer student Dan Woods, a Liberal Arts major, has been enrolled at MCCC since the fall of 2009 after attending Mercer County High School. “I get a mentor for my classes who help me take notes. I also get individual tutoring and in what they call the DREAM program.”

According to Program Director Dr Sue Onaitis, the DREAM program is designed for students with severe develop- mental disabilities. “The DREAM program is a program for young adults that are typically between the ages of 18 and 25 when their admitted, who have an intellectual disability and want a college experience.”

When needed, class aids are available to assist DREAM students in classes to both take notes and review lessons with them. The program also focuses on building work skills and communication strategies.

Dr Onaitis said that the DREAM program was initially created to assist adults with Down Syndrome. “Initially we were funded by a grant from the Riggio family through the National Down Syndrome Society and the program was developed for youngadults with Down Syndrome,” explained her.

Now Mercer has a range of intellectually disabled students enrolled in the program. “We have some students with Down Syndrome, Autism spectrum, students who have had accidents and have an intellectual disability,” said Dr Onaitis. The program currently consist of 28 students.

Professor Ted Otten, who has been teaching English at Mercer for 45 years, believes that the resources are available but the students with disabilities don’t al- ways search for them. “The support is usually there. But if the student doesn’t hand me the [accommodations] papers, I assume everything is fine. Then, when the student comes to school and needs some type of support, he doesn’t have it.”

Prof. Otten also said that the advisement center could do much more to steer students to the instructors who are most compatible with their learning needs. “I don’t think anybody tells the students that there is a big difference between ENG 101 the way I teach it in an ordinary class and the way other people teach it using word processors.”

Prof. Otten also said that “Certain teachers are much more compatible to give time and help than other people. Not everybody teaches the same way and not everybody looks at students the same way.”

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