Higher Education News
Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.
There was a time when I couldn’t even say the word out loud. It was too painful, too devastating to utter. I wanted to believe that if I didn’t say the word, it didn’t exist. But it does exist; it’s real, and it’s beautiful, and it’s challenging all at the same time. And whether I say the word or not, my son Chris has autism.
I’ve been on this autism journey for 30 years now, more than half my life. Back in 1990, when Chris was first diagnosed, there was no autism awareness month, because there wasn’t autism awareness. Family, friends, and neighbors looked at me quizzically when I shared his diagnosis. What does that mean? How did he get it? How do you cure it? But I did not have the answers. Even the multitude of doctors we saw could not provide the answers. Since that time, there has been an exponential increase in the number of children diagnosed, and almost everyone has been touched by autism in some way. So today, when a family shares the diagnosis, others are usually aware of what it means.
As I reflect on the past 30 years I recall so many memories. I remember, as if it was yesterday, sitting in the doctor’s office; the diagnosis confirmed my fears following months of research into what might be causing the unusual behaviors of our little boy.
I remember…calling anyone and everyone I thought might help my family; the feelings of isolation at the playground, Sunday school, birthday parties, and all the other places where we just never seemed to fit in; the stress before every outing, wondering if there would be a meltdown or some other embarrassing event; wondering if my marriage would survive the stress; and the feelings of inadequacy for not parenting my children the way I thought I should have.
I remember the fear, guilt, and sheer terror of not knowing where my child was that day when he wandered off. But I also remember the intense relief and gratitude I felt when he was found.
I remember the vast uncertainty I felt when Chris was diagnosed, wondering what his life would be like as he grew to adulthood. And now that we have reached that point, I want to share some of the bright lights we encountered along the way, especially for those of you who may be new to the journey.
When he was four, I remember watching Chris climb aboard the school bus to begin the 45-minute ride to his “special” school. My gut told me that he needed to be with his community friends, and I spent years trying to persuade my school district to serve him in our local school. I learned about Chris’ right to be included with his neighborhood peers when I attended a workshop hosted by the New Jersey Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), our state’s federally funded Parent Training and Information Center. SPAN became one of the bright lights on our path. The information our family received from SPAN allowed us to develop an IEP (individualized education program) that brought Chris back to our home district for high school. I remember watching anxiously as he disappeared into the building on his first day of high school, also his first day of school in a general education setting. Despite my concerns, I remember how kind and supportive Chris’ peers were to him; serving as beacons lighting our journey. I remember Chris learning math, reading, and how to play an instrument—things I was told he wouldn’t be able to do—and working with teachers who never gave up on him. And I will never forget, four years later, watching him climb into a limo with friends to attend the senior prom. My heart was so full of happiness and pride I thought it would burst.
This journey has taught me a great deal; autism has been my teacher for some of life’s most important lessons:Gratitude
Autism helps you to be grateful for the small things, the things you might have overlooked had they not been such a struggle to achieve: hugs, first words, friends, independence, general happiness and physical health. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.Community
I continue to be in awe of, and inspired by, all the people we’ve met on this journey, most of whom have gone out of their way to help us any way they could: doctors, teachers, therapists, neighbors, friends, strangers, other families on the same path, and my colleagues at SPAN. Today, Chris has a circle of support that makes it possible for him to live a full, rich life. My husband and I appreciate the love and support of family; siblings have been caretakers and cheerleaders, and extended family members step up and help, no questions asked. Autism has taught me that I can’t do it all alone, no matter how hard I try. We need the support of others and must learn to accept it graciously.Courage
Fear is an everyday struggle on this journey. I fear what will happen today and in the near future, and dread what might happen to my child when I’m not able to care for him. I feel trepidation in trying something new, and doubt with every life decision. But sometimes I must take a leap of faith. In this, I have always been rewarded, either with success or increased knowledge, both very valuable. I have learned to trust in myself and follow my gut.Forgiveness
Of yourself and others. Don’t hold onto past mistakes and don’t carry the burden of anger and resentment toward others. Learn to let go, learn from your experiences, and move on.Humor
Laugh at yourself and your circumstances. Laughing releases endorphins and helps you feel good. We can learn a lot by seeing the world through a different lens and by not taking things—or ourselves—too seriously.
In closing, what I want to share with you more than anything is how immensely proud I am of Chris and all he has accomplished. He is a 30-year-old man living with autism, working and volunteering in the community, and often struggling to find his voice and get by in a world that can be overwhelming for him. Yet he manages to do it with dignity and grace, with unwavering support from the circle of love and light that surrounds him—his parents, siblings, and extended family; his peers, support staff, and therapists; our neighbors and friends. I shall always be thankful for Chris and the guiding lights that autism brought into our lives.
Carolyn Hayer is the Director of Parent and Professional Development at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) in New Jersey, an OSERS-funded Parent Training and Information Center.
Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.
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A University in Texas Promised Full Scholarships to Dozens of Nepalese Students. Months Later, It Revoked the Offer.
In addition to covering my United States Government and Politics curriculum, every year I put my students through a mini “adulting 101” bootcamp. During the first semester of school we focus on basic “adulting” skills like registering to vote, laundry care, vehicle maintenance, building a resume, meal planning, cooking, etc.
During the second semester, I focus on four financial basics that establish a foundation for these students to become financially literate adults.
- The basics of banking includes checking accounts, savings accounts, writing checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, fees and setting up automatic payments.
- Understanding credit, credit cards, fees and penalties, interest rates, repayment and credit scores.
- Borrowing money, interest rates, repayment options and debt.
- Budgeting, saving and investing.
Initially when I narrowed the focus of the financial literacy portion of my “adulting 101” curriculum, I reached out to my local bank for information and resources. They not only provided me with free resources, they also offered to present to my students. This was an awesome opportunity for a financial professional and community partner to answer questions and provide insight to these young adults getting ready to start the next, but for most, the first financial chapter of their lives.
Every year I invite my local bank representative to introduce financial literacy to my students. I follow up with a series of mini lessons on each topic that tie in hands-on activities that incorporate real world scenarios. It is kind of like the young adult version of The Game of Life.
Among other activities, students learn how to write checks and deposit slips and balance a ledger. They research credit cards, fees, rewards and calculate total repayment costs compared to paying cash. They research different types of loans, how they acquire interest and repayment options. And they create personal budgets to deal with projected living expenses, bills and unexpected financial situations like doctor bills, blown out tires and birthday presents.
Standing at the starting line of adulthood can be an overwhelming experience for many of my senior students come spring. College applications have already been submitted, some have been informed of and accepted early admissions, but many of them are making their pros and cons lists between their top choices for university.
This process almost always leads into a conversation about the cost of attending university, in conjunction with how to pay for it. These conversations remind me of my own experiences as a senior, excited and a bit scared, sitting around the kitchen table on numerous occasions with my mother who helped me navigate the financial world for the first time.
Now, around the tables in my own classroom, I get to pay it forward to my own students. One lesson at a time, helping to build confident, knowledgeable, financially literate adults.
Yamilza Rivera Negron has taught AP Psychology, Student Leadership, and United States Government and Politics in the Clark County School District, Nevada, for the past 11 years.
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To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education hosted the Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success event. Honoring Dr. King at this time held even more significance because the following day was the 50th anniversary of his assassination, which shook the world on April 4, 1968. Although his fight for justice and peace was cut short, celebrating his legacy reminded us what it means to be persistent and righteous leaders for change, especially for the benefit of our youth in communities and schools across the nation.Recognizing the Drum Major Spirit
ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans honored members of communities across the nation who have upheld Dr. King’s legacy through their extraordinary everyday acts of service, especially benefiting youth and education. These distinguished honorees received the 2018 MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award.
As Dr. King once said, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, I was a drum major for righteousness.” The award recipients demonstrated the drum major spirit in their own way, whether as a school administrator, faith leader, community leader, parent or other engaged leader.
One award recipient who really touched the hearts of audience members shared his story of a trying educational journey, overcoming life challenges and achieving a purpose-driven life. Stacey L. Young, now a college professor, author, radio host and founder of a community organization, did not have a traditional educational experience. After barely graduating high school and dropping out of college – twice – he now has a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees.
Mr. Young spoke of the importance of engaging with students in the classroom and getting to know them beyond test scores. He credits his ability to stand with us today, to tell his story and to give back to students, to someone once telling him, “You matter.”
The idea that students need to know that they matter – that their education matters and that we are willing to address their specific needs to help them succeed – was one of the greatest takeaways of this event. Mr. Young explained that if he had more educational supports, engagement and options while struggling in school, it would not have taken him as long to finish and achieve in school and through postsecondary education.Speed Mentoring for Students
The last session of the event was tailor made for the students who joined us. Speed Mentoring for Students matched each student with six professionals. Students were able to voice their opinions about how the school system can better serve them, as well as utilize this network of established professionals.
Some of the questions the students posed related to how to strengthen relationships between educators and students. Students also received advice about how they can make a change for the better on their respective campuses.
For instance, Joshua, a high school junior from Maryland, really soaked in the discussion. Rather than simply collecting cards and exchanging emails, he challenged the professional educators of the group.
He offered his advice for how teachers could better engage their students. He also participated in a discussion regarding how college students could help to affect change on their campuses.
This session ended with each adult panelist offering a piece of advice to the student in their group. Xavier Richardson, Executive Vice President and President of Foundations of Mary Washington Healthcare, who had taken a genuine interest in some of the comments Joshua made, explained the importance of networking to Joshua and challenged the student to use some of the business cards that he received that day.Secretary DeVos Congratulates the Recipients
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined the award recipients on stage to deliver closing remarks. The Secretary congratulated the 2018 MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award recipients and thanked them for honoring the legacy of Dr. King through their contributions to youth and their communities.
She shook hands and took pictures with each of the award recipients as well as with the student participants.
One program attendee who was especially pleased by the presence of Secretary DeVos was Dr. Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams, a civil rights leader and retired educator from Arkansas. Dr. Abrams was pleased to share her experiences about growing up during the civil rights movement and the progress that she has seen over time in education. But she also acknowledged there is still work to be done.
Dr. Abrams expressed her belief in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the responsibility we all have to continue to provide quality educational opportunities for our youth, even as times change. Dr. Abrams and Secretary DeVos discussed the meaning of this event as they stopped for pictures on stage.
The Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success event was truly impactful and allowed us to honor the amazing work that is being done to support the education of our youth and those who are committed to their achievement. We appreciated the opportunity to honor MLK Jr.’s legacy, inspire participants and engage with students.
Naya Patterson and Freddy Ryle are student interns for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
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