Amber Ferrell knew her 12-year-old son, Elliot, needed a special sort of nurturing if he were to flourish in his school work.
He’d been in schools with limited resources and programs for children such as her son, who is autistic and developmentally delayed.
“Their programs were not tailored to every child,” Ferrell said. “They try to put all the kids into the same box. I felt like that was an issue. … They did not pay attention to his eating as much as a parent would. His shirt came home dirty every day. Why did this kid look like a wreck when he comes home every day?”
Ferrell’s stopped having to ask such questions since enrolling Elliot in the Bancroft Raymond & Joanne Welsh campus in Mount Laurel. Founded in 1883, the private academy caters to students with special needs ages 7 to 21.
A recent $75 million infrastructure-improvement project included a move to this new campus. Bancroft’s capital campaign included a sustained fundraising effort and the sale of its campus in Haddonfield.
The Mount Laurel campus has a capacity for 265 students, with enrollment currently at 238, about half of whom board at the school. Bancroft also has a campus in Cherry Hill that offers an early autism program and a campus in Voorhees that serves children who are medically fragile through a partnership with Voorhees Pediatric Hospital.
The Bancroft School does not charge tuition from families. Tuition runs up to about $60,000 per year, and is funded by school districts and state divisions under New Jersey law that mandates every child must receive free and appropriate public education, Bancroft spokeswoman Lori Shaffer said.
“New Jersey businesses should seek to become familiar with Bancroft, because it is most likely … they have employees who are dealing with real-life challenges and the associated stress as it pertains to child care,” Shaffer said via email. “The support of businesses from a financial, volunteer and partner perspective allows Bancroft to provide opportunities for children and adults to reach their fullest potential.”
“Parents of kids with special needs network, and I saw Bancroft pop up in some marketing,” recalled Ferrell, who lives in Burlington City. “I wish [Elliot] had been there for the last five years. His case manager changed eight times in a specialized district. The teachers and aides kept changing. These types of students need stability. He was not getting that.”
Said Dennis Morgan, senior vice president of children’s services at Bancroft: “We look at every child in a holistic manner and we’re not just catering to their unique needs educationally. We are looking at the whole child in terms of 24-hour care around the clock.”
Schools face a challenge in reinforcing the behaviors that support learning, Morgan said. Bancroft uses a clinical team of social workers, therapists, neurologists, and nurse practitioners.
“When a child cannot communicate their unique needs, we have a team member who can figure it out,” he said.
Bancroft provides a program to serve children whose behaviors have prevented them from accessing educational opportunities. The program has 30 “licensed beds,” including 12 funded through the New Jersey Division of Child and Family Services.
“Our children are amazingly capable and tremendously talented,” Morgan said. “The general community is not always open and welcoming of this population, because their behaviors or limited expressive skills sometimes makes others feel uncomfortable. One of our greater challenges is to help our community and society in general to become more aware and more accepting of these challenges: not intimidated by what they don’t know.”
Bancroft has 143 corporate and foundation partners, including ADP, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Sun Life Financial. It works with companies that provide volunteer partnerships and paid jobs.
“We also have a robust volunteer program where organizations volunteer their time and effort to assist Bancroft in various projects throughout the year,” Shaffer said. “We seek to advance our position in the community by demonstrating the value Bancroft may bring to local and national businesses by tapping into their corporate social responsibility goals.”
Ferrell said Bancroft brings its students to restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses so they become comfortable in those environments.
“With Bancroft, I am definitely seeing forward progress,” she said. “I am definitely getting what I expect and sometimes getting more than what I expect. I like that they are putting their money where their mouth is. They work on the socialization of the child and a host of events.”
Bancroft, whose total workforce includes about 2,500 employees at all its campuses, features a gymnasium and indoor/outdoor recreational space. It will soon boast a swimming pool.
Meantime, the school will measure the return on its campus-upgrade investments in the smiles of employees and students, Morgan said, and student morale already is climbing higher than ever before.