Mercer Elementary School was opened in September, 2005. It is a combination of the Alfred Reed School, the Regional Day School and the White Horse School. It serves autistic and multiply handicapped students in grades Kindergarten through eighth. Emphasis is placed on the student as an individual and a member of a group. Experiences in learning encompass academic and social components. Making appropriate decisions, accepting consequences and developing independence and responsibility are skills that are reinforced daily along with academics. Developmental and functional approaches, based on individualized educational plans (IEP) are used.
Students are instructed according to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS). In order to enhance progress in the general curriculum, students receive direct instruction from certified special education staff. The faculty includes teachers of the handicapped who utilize a variety of instructional methodologies to support the different needs and learning styles of the students enrolled in the school. All teachers are highly qualified according to the New Jersey regulations for teachers. Mercer Elementary is a state approved testing site. Students participate in the NJ ASK, GEPA or the Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA).
The Multiple Disabilities Program provides IEP based instruction for all students. Individualized instruction supports different learning styles. Teachers use instructional techniques and strategies suited to each student. A variety of methods of reading and math instruction assist students who are experiencing difficulty with traditional methods of teaching. Reading instruction may include: whole language, basal series, Wilson, Stevenson, trade books and a combination of the above. Math strategies also incorporate rote skill learning, touch math, basal math series, functional math within and outside of the classroom and a combination of the above. Students with severe disabilities are developing increased functioning in personal skills as well as being exposed to the general curriculum for development of access skills. The typical MD class has 12 students, one teacher and one assistant. For classes that have greater needs, the ratio among staff to student may increase.
The Autism program is rooted in the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach to teaching. This is the most commonly used evidence based approach. Students with autism are taught through systematic strategies and are consistently reinforced for displaying the desired behaviors. A vital part of this program is the collection of daily data to measure the progression of skill development and to equip staff with information they need to make judgments regarding programs. Social skills training is incorporated into all autistic classes and is applied within the school and community settings. Instruction in the community provides a real world opportunity to assist in the generalization of skills learned in the classroom. A typical Autistic class has 6 students, one teacher and two assistants. Parents of autistic students can take advantage of the Home Program offered by MCSSSD. This is optional and driven by parent interest and need. The coordinator of the home program will meet with interested families, explain the parameters, define reasonable outcomes and assign training staff. Parents must agree to attend training as a condition of participation. The training focuses on teaching parents the principles of ABA. A home trainer will be assigned following parental training. Families are eligible for up to eight sessions.
In all classes, the teacher to student ratio follows all state guidelines. This helps to maximize instruction. Individual, dyad and small group instruction are employed depending on the needs of the student and the demands of the curriculum. Staff engage in strategic planning for the transition to more inclusive settings. Training is available to all staff in a variety of areas throughout the year. All students learn how to function as independently as possible and can take advantage of the school's Activities of Daily Living rooms (ADL), which are modeled after a functioning kitchen. Here the students can practice their skills with the goal of generalizing to the home setting. Social skills development is a key component of the programs at MES, encouraging appropriate decision making, developing independence and building responsibility.
A full range of therapeutic services including speech, occupational and physical therapy is provided at Mercer Elementary. Certified School Social Workers or Psychologists provide individual and group counseling. Each class also participates in a group decision making and problem-solving program on a weekly basis. All related services are provided in accordance with the student's IEP. Therapists work collaboratively with each other and the classroom teacher to fully integrate and support student needs. Two certified school nurses provide Nursing and health services. In addition to routine care of children, these nurses may participate in IEP meetings, assist in feeding program reviews, conduct vision and hearing screenings and maintain close contact with parents.
A full array of assistive technology is available to our students. Augmentative Communication devices are deployed in a variety of settings to ensure access to the general curriculum and to ensure access to the community. Adaptations to support the use of computers, environmental devices and prevocational equipment are provided by the related services staff. Inservice training is provided to staff in the area of augmentative communication. The assistive technology staff work closely with the teachers and therapists to maximize communication opportunities. A state of the art assistive tech and adaptive equipment department is available to all students at Mercer County Special Services School District.
A Portfolio Assessment evaluation process is used at Mercer Elementary School. Each student has his/her own portfolio for academic, social and therapy assessment. Staff evaluate students at least twice per year and keep ongoing information regarding student progress in the portfolio. The portfolio documents follow the student throughout their career at Mercer Elementary. When the students return to their sending district or move on to our high school, these documents follow them to their next teacher. Parents are invited to review the portfolios on a regular basis. When appropriate, students have been able to participate in the selection of materials included in their portfolio. Student progress reports are issued three times during the school year and once during ESY. Parent conferences are held twice yearly formally, however parents can request a conference any time throughout the year.
Special subject teachers provide instruction in music, art, library and physical education. These classes provide students the opportunity to experience success in a venue that encourages cooperation and working as part of a group. Mercer Elementary also has two choirs for students interested in singing. There is a vocal choir and an augmentative choir. The choir hosts a winter and spring concert each year, and has performed at the Princeton Marketfair Mall during Read Across America Week. An art club is available for students who are interested in developing a variety of skills, or participating in more extensive art projects. Projects are displayed within the school and community throughout the year, and various art contests are entered.
Throughout the school year, field trips and community based instruction are used to enhance and supplement the curriculum in all areas. Assemblies are also planned to provide a hands on approach to learning and reinforcing a variety of material. Students and parents are encouraged to participate in community activities such as: Challenger Baseball and Basketball; Special Olympic teams; S.K.O.R. (Special Kids Organized Recreation); Miracle League Baseball; PAL programs; community and sending district school athletic teams or clubs. Several classes participate in the Book It! Program sponsored by Pizza Hut. This program encourages students to enjoy books through reading or listening activities. Students can earn food rewards from Pizza Hut for participation. Each year parents and students are able to participate in the Scholastic Book Fair. The Book Fair provides a wide variety of reading materials and educational games for students. With money earned from the Book Fair we are able to supplement the materials in our school library as well as do book give aways throughout the year.
Students come to our program through their local sending district. Parents and sending district staff work closely to locate the appropriate educational program for the student. When Mercer County Special Services is chosen as an option, the sending district makes application to MCSSSD and the school will contact the district to set up a tour and student intake. Following the tour/intake process, the sending district is contacted regarding the appropriateness of the targeted school/program. Once the student is accepted, the parent and sending district complete appropriate paperwork in order to start the student in the program in a timely fashion. Continual monitoring and contact is maintained between the sending district staff and the MCSSSD staff. Parents are always kept informed and have a case manager at both the MCSSSD School and the sending district.