CAMDEN — The Camden Education Fund today announced that it has awarded $1.23 million to public schools in Camden to build new, specialized supports for students with disabilities coming out of the pandemic.

Five public school networks — Camden City School District, LEAP Academy, Camden’s Promise Charter School, Uncommon Camden Prep, and KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy — were awarded approximately $250,000 each.  Each network applied for grant funding over the summer and was notified of the award last week.

“We know that the pandemic has impacted all students, and that it has had a disparate impact on our most vulnerable students,” said Naeha Dean, executive director of the Camden Education Fund. 

“Rather than wait and see what happens with school this fall, we saw this as a time to empower educators and provide them with resources to meet the growing needs of their students with disabilities. We are grateful to the city’s educators for submitting strong proposals that center the individualized needs of their students, and we’re thrilled to support them as they build these new programs.”

In Camden, 18% of students across grades K to 12 have a classified disability.  

Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs applauded the announcement. 

“It is not often that philanthropic opportunities arise specifically for supporting students with disabilities.  Along with our educators and families, and especially our outstanding special educators, I am grateful for this support from Camden Education Fund. It will take us, as a city, one step closer to our goal of equity for all children,” said McCombs.

Both the U.S. Department of Education and the state of New Jersey have highlighted the extent to which COVID-19 has uniquely disrupted the education of students with disabilities.

In a June statement, Governor Murphy acknowledged that “the provision of educational and related services required by students’ IEPs has been especially challenging to deliver through remote learning.” In a June 2021 report, the U.S. Department of Education cautioned that the pandemic had the potential to “exacerbat[e] longstanding disability-based disparities in academic achievement.”

The five school networks receiving grants each proposed a particular project to better support students with disabilities at their schools:   

  • At Woodrow Wilson High School, the Camden City School District will develop a culinary arts program to provide students in life skills courses with the technical and soft skills to prepare for work in the agricultural, culinary and food service industries.  The program will be integrated with the District’s Culinary and Food Services Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway and includes partnerships with Aramark and other local employers to enable internships and post-secondary job opportunities.
  • At Camden’s Promise Charter School in Cramer Hill, the focus will be on providing students with disabilities with stronger, more individualized support for early literacy instruction.  Foundational reading skills are widely seen as a prerequisite for future academic success.  The school will be adopting the Wilson Fundations curriculum and providing extra pull-out support to students lagging in reading skills. “We are very thankful for this opportunity from the Camden Education Fund to further support our students in their literacy development, which ultimately impacts all areas of learning. The Wilson program is an evidence-based program, which focuses on phonemic awareness and phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. With the return to in-person instruction and to begin to address the learning loss from the pandemic, it is crucial to provide explicit, multi-sensory instruction in fundamental reading skills. In addition, the grant will allow us to train staff members to deliver this type of instruction in order to build confident, successful readers,” said Rebecca Brinkmann Phelan, Executive Director of Camden’s Promise.
  • At KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, the grant will be used to develop a robust job and skills program for high school students with significant disabilities.  The school will build out of a model apartment for students to practice independent living skills, including laundry, cooking, community transportation, and budgeting.  It will also adopt two highly-rated life skills curricula, which provide opportunities to learn and practice task completion, expectations in the workforce, and self-advocacy. “Our mission is to prepare every student for a life of choice. From goal setting to getting a job and from living independently to managing money, this grant from the Camden Education Fund will support programming for ‘real life’ experiences that will help our students with special learning needs gain confidence and independence. We are grateful for this grant and the opportunity to expand our career and life skills programming,” said Jaime Downey, Director of Special Education at KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.
  • At LEAP Academy, grant dollars will enable the introduction of Applied Behavioral Therapy for students with autism.  Applied Behavioral Therapy is based on the science of learning and focuses on improving specific behaviors such as social skills and communications.  Although it is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association, it is not yet widely used in schools.
  • At Uncommon Camden Prep, grant dollars will be used to bring on additional special education teachers with content expertise to run a specialized high school program for students with severe disabilities that offers smaller class sizes and more differentiated instruction.  

A full list of awards is below.

  • Camden City School District: $250,000
  • LEAP Academy: $250,000
  • Uncommon Camden Prep: $250,000
  • KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy: $245,900
  • Camden’s Promise Charter School: $235,000

The Camden Education Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating progress in Camden’s public school system. CEF works with families, school partners, and community leaders to identify citywide needs in education.

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