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Individuals with Disabilities Welcomed into Classrooms Through Collaborative Program

partners in transition

SUNY Plattsburgh has partnered with Champlain Valley Educational Services to provide classroom experience to their clients with disabilities through the Partners in Transition program.

Dr. Michelle Bonati’s social context in education class have invited a college-age student with developmental disability to audit the class.

“Students ages 18-21 are still able to receive services through the Individuals with Disabilities Act,” Bonati said. “Instead of having these students continue receiving education services after high school, they are here on campus.”

Tonya Robinson, coordinator of transition programs with CVES, said she has always wanted to provide opportunities for young adults with disabilities to participate in activities similar to their peers after graduating from high school where true interactions with peers occur.

Robinson, a SUNY Plattsburgh 1996 special education grad, said she wished such a program existed when she was on campus.

“I believe it would have been a great opportunity for me during my studies to have had opportunities available on campus that allowed me to work with and learn from the population I enjoyed most, those with added challenges,” Robinson said.

Partnership Was Formed

In collaboration with SUNY Plattsburgh through Dr. Denise Simard, interim dean, School of Education, Health and Human Services, and Cynthia McCarty, program leader in the masters in special education, a partnership was formed.

“This connection between the two schools has created a pathway for individuals who are working to develop their job-readiness skills,” Robinson said. “Building self-confidence, self-awareness, time-management, independence, self-advocacy and developing an increased comfort with social interactions are some of the essential soft skills that are being learned through this integration. This program supports our individuals to develop skills that will lead to future employment and allow them to be contributing members of our community.”

Partners in Transition arrived on campus in the fall of 2019. In addition to auditing classes, CVES students can be seen going to different places on campus, which, as Bonati said, gives them socialization with the entire campus, not just with those folks they meet at Sibley.

“As much as we love our space at Sibley Hall, we truly love being out and about on campus volunteering and participating in a variety of activities,” Robinson said.

Students like Abbie Defayette, who is auditing Bonati’s education class, participate to their fullest extent. And for their part, Bonati’s students have accepted Defayette as one of them. During a recent class activity, student Sarah Usher told Defayette, “I am inspired to have you as one of us in our class. We love having you here,” she said.

Benefits of Students Audit Classes

Called the “morning meeting,” Bonati said, “it gives the teacher and students the chance to check in with everybody, build relationships, and it is a nice chance to get to know each other.”

Bonati said when she was a post-doctorate student in Australia, she did research on the benefits of having students with disabilities audit university classes.

“It was a strong peer mentor program” Bonati said. “I extended the invitation to Tonya to have students audit courses here. It’s a great opportunity for me to model for future teachers in class and for them to get to know one of those students. My hopes down the road are to see that expanded and have other faculty allow students to audit their classes. It’s been well-embraced by other faculty. We continue to think about how we can partner together.”

‘Truly Amazing’

“The individuals we work with and their excitement, interest and desire are all part of the equation that drives us to find innovative ways to make volunteer and integrated community experiences happen,” Robinson said. “Being greeted each morning with an excited, ‘What are we doing today? Can I go? I have been looking forward to today,’ has become an everyday occurrence because the individuals we work want to be involved, they want to do something meaningful, challenging and fun.”

Robinson said she believes the connection between the two educational entities “has been truly amazing.”

“Each week new opportunities and partnerships on campus are created,” she said. “These partnerships allow us to provide choice to the individuals about the activities they want to be involved with.”

In addition to the Partners in Transition program, CVES students have been involved in other ways on campus. These include:

  • Get-togethers with a fraternity on campus at dining places on campus
  • A job readiness class held by the Speech and Hearing Clinic, which provides the chance to practice speech skills
  • Guest speakers from areas on campus such as Maintenance and Operations, where they have come to speak about jobs and responsibilities and provide volunteer activities on campus
  • Recreational programs at Memorial Hall
  • Guest visits from University Police, who taught safety skills

“This is just the beginning; we have many more opportunities in the works,” Robinson said.

For more information on Partners in Transition, contact Robinson at 518-561-0430, Ext. 3051, email [email protected], or Bonati at 518-564-5123 or email [email protected].

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