Project AIIM Seniors Leave BOCES Prepared for College Life
In the world of education, June is traditionally the month for awards, recognition ceremonies and commencements.
One particular award ceremony on June 8 marked a special occasion for the five seniors in the Southern Westchester BOCES Project AIIM program hosted at Irvington High School. The students were the first to pilot a new college transition program designed just for them and were being recognized for completing it with flying colors. Project AIIM primarily serves students with Autism spectrum disorders. The high school Project AIIM class at Irvington is taught by SWBOCES teachers Cassie Schneider and Bonnie Miller.
Offered by the Successful Learning Center (SLC) of Monroe, N.Y., the program provides collegiate-based learning opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities by three college professors. Now in its third year, the SLC offers courses at Dominican College, Pascack Community Center in Nyack, Street Community Center in New City, Pace University-Pleasantville and Westchester Community College.
“This program starts the whole transition process [to college] at an earlier level,” said Sheri Cappello, SLC’s director of community affairs. “Anyone who wants to continue their education is welcome.”
The program was offered at the IHS campus on Friday mornings for one hour over a 10-week period between February and April.
Course Teaches Self Advocacy
The participating seniors --- T.J. Brady, Kerry Gallagher, Kerryn Prieto, Ahmad Shellah and Geoffrey Straughn --- were given a wide range of academic and cultural courses from which to choose, among them creative writing, art, computer skills, current events, earth science, music, photography and public speaking. Ultimately, the students chose a course titled “Self Advocacy and Team Building” taught by Ms. Cappello.
“This class is about learning how to stand up for yourself, to ask for help and to identify wants versus needs, strengths versus weaknesses,” Ms. Cappello said. “It really is about choice, and when you get to college you get to choose.”
Brilliant Team Assignment
For their class assignment, the students were asked to work as a team to develop a self advocacy plan for their successful enrollment and attendance at Pace University. The students developed a transportation plan to and from the Pleasantville campus coordinated with class schedules, contingencies for missed buses and trains, and a means for funding their tuition.
“These five students had the most well-planned and thought out advocacy skit I have ever seen,” Ms. Cappello told the parents and staff who were in attendance at the ceremony. “I saw the students develop and take on leadership roles. I was completely impressed, especially with their assurance and confidence.”
Each student was awarded a certificate for the Best Advocacy Skit of 2011. “Just because you’re graduating doesn’t mean your education stops,” she reminded the seniors. “You have to move forward, not stop.”
The SLC has been asked to continue working at IHS next school year, with the program expanded to include Project AIIM students in every high school grade, said Special Services Supervisor David Zurhellen.
Bob Newman Award Winners
Five seniors also received the Bob Newman Award, established in memory of former Rye Lake Campus student Bobby Newman, who died tragically many years ago. The scholarship award is given in recognition of students who are aging out of their program.
Recipients of the Bob Newman award are nominated, must write an essay reflecting on their educational experience with BOCES, and successfully complete the school year.
The recipients were Eddie Frangos, Kerrey Gallagher, Kerryn Prieto and Ahmad Shellah. “In all of my 10 programs, only four students got the Bob Newman Award this year, and all four are from Irvington High School Project AIIM,” Mr. Zurhellen said.
After receiving a certificate and a gold medal inscribed with the Bob Newman insignia, the students read their essays aloud.
Eddie Frangos said that BOCES helped him “deal with my learning disabilities and Autism,” taught him ways to cope with stress and helped him make new friends over the years. “I feel like I’m ready for the world,” he said.
Kerrey Gallagher, who entered the BOCES Project AIIM program in the seventh grade at Pleasantville Middle School, thanked the BOCES staff for helping her to learn how to “handle my feelings in positive ways. I feel like my life is better now that I have more friends. They will be my friends for a long time. I’ll miss this program when I graduate.”
Ahmad Shellah, whom Mr. Zurhellen had appointed his “Assistant Principal” for helping keep track of student attendance, said that his sophomore year at IHS was the year “I really started to bloom” thanks to BOCES. He joined the football team, went on memorable field trips and made friends. “Overall, my experience at BOCES has been just outstanding,” he said. “Thanks for all the wonderful memories, great education and never-ending support.”
The event wrapped up with a song written, played on guitar and sung by senior Kerryn Prieto, who is a multi-instrumentalist and well-known at IHS for his musical talent.
Titled “BOCES,” the tribute song recounts Kerryn’s experiences as a BOCES student, the good and challenging times he’s had, his wistful desire at times to be a mainstream kid and the support BOCES has given him.
Excerpted from the chorus of Kerryn’s song:
“All in all, through up and down
It was always fun to hang around
Someone to lean on
To pick you up when things are wrong…
But BOCES is a big help for me
It prepares me for the real”