Students get ready for spring as they repot colorful flowers at The Bancroft School in Mount Laurel.
“I like the horticulture program, I think it’s the best place I’ve ever been,” said Sean, a student at The Bancroft School.
Fifteen-year-old Sean loves getting his hands in the dirt and spending time in the greenhouse. He’s one of 243 students who attend The Bancroft School, which provides special education programs for children and youth with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Our hope is to be able to provide them an education that leads them to the highest degree of independence, so that once they graduate and move into the real world, that they’ve had an exposure, both academically and vocationally, and also out in the community that would really benefit them so that they can work and live alongside their non-disabled community members successfully,” said Judi Brown, principal of The Bancroft School.
Bancroft’s story began 135 years ago when Margaret Bancroft established a school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Haddonfield. It began with just one student. It’s grown tremendously since then. The new 80-acre Mount Laurel campus just opened this past December. Bancroft serves students from 90 different school districts across the state along with out-of-state residents.
“The children who often attend The Bancroft School are admitted to us and referred to us by their home school district. So in the event that a home school district has identified that the child’s needs may exceed their capability and resources, they look for an alternative option,” said Dennis Morgan, senior vice president of children’s services at The Bancroft School. “The school district is the responsible party for financing and funding the placement in the school, and also providing transportation to and from, should that be necessary.”
There’s a program geared for those with acute behavioral challenges through hands-on classes like music, art, horticulture and more.
“Kids are kids, and while we provide some very targeted specialized treatment and educational services for children, they are just kids and they’re really seeking out the same opportunities as their peers are anywhere,” said Brown.
Forty percent of the students live in residential programs at Bancroft either on or off campus, like 21-year-old Daniel Meade. He was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.
“He joined the residential program in 2014 when we realized that we couldn’t give Daniel what he needed at home to develop into a responsible, independent person. It’s giving him some autonomy. It’s allowing him to develop on his own without us being over his shoulder every single day,” said Patrick Meade, Daniel’s dad.
Daniel is on the job in a workshop, dismantling old computer parts. Daniel’s part of Bancroft’s transitional program for students 18- to 21-years-old who are nearing graduation. They have an opportunity to work in different areas like production centers and mail delivery. The goal is to match their skills to jobs they enjoy.
Daniel’s mom Tina is so proud of her son.
“Now we’re really in awe of all he’s accomplished on a regular basis. So many of the things he’s doing now, we never thought he would do,” she said.
Daniel’s parents say they can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.