Pace Proves College is Good for Students with Autism and They are Good for Colleges

Students with developmental disabilities on the autism spectrum have been integrated into general education in public schools since the mid-‘90s. But what should they do when they turn 18 and see others their age heading to college?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Cara Halstead Cea 914-906-9680, chalstead@pace.edu

“Work is the best part of my day at Pace because it gives me the chance to meet a lot of people and prepares me for the real world.”
– Benny, student with autism

“I hope I never underestimate anyone again.”
— Emma, Pace University undergraduate

PACE UNIVERSITY PROGRAM SHOWS
COLLEGE IS GOOD FOR STUDENTS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS AND THEY ARE GOOD FOR COLLEGES

Documentary on inclusion class, “Look, I’m in College!”
chosen for 2008 Sprout Film Festival at Metropolitan Museum of Art

NEW YORK, NY, April 11, 2008 – Students with developmental disabilities on the autism spectrum have been integrated into general education in public schools since the mid-‘90s. But what should they do when they turn 18 and see others their age heading to college?

Well, some of them can go to college, too, and create valuable experiences for both themselves and their non-autistic classmates.

That is the heartening result of a gamble that Pace University took in 2005 when it admitted four New York City public school students with developmental disabilities, Terence, Benny, Donald, and Rayquan, to a special “inclusion” program.

Now the experience of being treated very nearly like collegians has helped them graduate into full time jobs and high levels of self sufficiency.

And it has helped non-autistic students in the classes they took see them as people rather than for their disabilities.

The four students are featured in a half-hour, professionally-produced documentary called “Look, I’m in College!” made by Ken Browne Productions. Chronicling a journey that took the students beyond expectations, the film has just become one of the 31 official selections of the 2008 Sprout Film Festival of films, to be screened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about all genres of disabilities (www.sff.gosprout.org), and has been accepted for airing on public television station Channel 21 this summer.

The festival will show “Look, I’m in College!” on Friday, May 9 at 2:00pm at the Museum’s New Uris Education Center, 81st St. & 5th Avenue, in the Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall and the Art Study Room.

Shortage of Peers. Because of their challenges, the four students faced uncertain futures. But by 2005 they had done well with support in inclusion classes in high school at P226M in the special education program for students with disabilities operated by New York City’s public District 75, which runs programs at more than 300 school sites throughout the city.

The students’ problem was that New York City provides funding for their education through age 21, but once they turn 18, few facilities have been developed where they can associate with people their own age. At the time the first students came to Pace, Manhattan public school students with autism had not typically attended college. Pace opened the door for such programs in Manhattan.

With District 75, Pace developed the “inclusion” program for students with autism and other developmental disabilities in its School of Education. The Pace effort was led by Dianne Zager, Ph.D., the Michael C. Koffler Endowed Professor in Autism and the director of the Center for Teaching and Research in Autism.

Over the last three years, Zager has helped develop a significant program in autism education at Pace’s downtown campus, through which future educators are prepared for the growing field of educating students with special needs.

Subways to self-reliance. Terence, Benny, Donald, and Rayquan were accompanied by a full time teacher and two paraprofessionals from District 75 as they attended college-level introductory classes that matched their interests – introductory psychology, sociology, art history, criminal justice, nutrition, computing, and math.

The District 75 teacher and paras pre-taught them, modified their assignments, worked with them on study skills, and guided them as they began part-time, five-day-a-week campus jobs, including entering computer data, sorting, and other jobs in the campus bookstore. The students also received “travel education” in their preparation to get to Pace every day by public transportation.

The original goal was to provide a next step for students who are older than their companions in District 75’s high school sites.

But Zager says “the autism inclusion program at Pace has exceeded even our expectations.”

The students make the daily trip to and from school on their own. Though their work is modified and they do not generally take exams, they have absorbed the material in their classes, as illustrated by a section of the film showing some of them analyzing literature in class discussions. Their job supervisors rate their job performance highly, and several have been promoted to more challenging tasks.

Indeed, the first two students, who had to “graduate” from the program when they turned 21, have found full-time jobs, one for a large food service firm and the other for an electrical lighting company in Long Island City.

The program has added students each year and in the fall expects to be up to its planned maximum of nine.

Mutual understanding. Zager stresses that “this is happening without diluting the education we offer non-autistic students. In fact, it’s making education better for everyone who participates.”

Fellow-students have learned that students with autism and developmental disabilities are people, not case studies. “That’s what I’ve learned – to really not judge a book by its cover,” said Suzanne Hijeck, undergraduate student at Pace, in the film. “Just because you are labeled autistic or ‘LD,’ it doesn’t mean really anything. It’s just a part of you. It isn’t you.”

The school of education recognized that the four students could provide a unique teaching opportunity for students majoring in elementary education and so the four young men were invited to join a math methods class.

“This was my first opportunity working with students with autism of this age,” said Emma Hatton, a Pace undergraduate. “The first day, we did an icebreaker where we blew up balloons and bubble gum and took measurements. It was fun. The connection that we built in that class was great and it was something I never expected it. That barrier that might have existed has definitely been lessened for me. I hope I never underestimate anyone again.”

Robots on Mars. One student in the film says his first year at Pace was exciting because of the variety of classes he could take. In his first semester, he took psychology and a computing class where he and other students created a web site. Later an art class taught him to draw with charcoal and pencil. In math, he took part in group activities, and in a robotics class he was part of a “Mission to Mars” simulated by LEGO robots. “At Pace we explore different job opportunities,” he says.

At work, some students in the program enter data, sort mail, and do small jobs for faculty members in the Pace education school’s Center for Urban Education and in the school’s administrative offices. Other students work at the Barnes and Noble campus bookstore, sorting books, keeping the store clean, helping customers and giving out free samples. One works the cash register and the credit card machine. “Work is the best part of my day at Pace because it gives me the chance to meet a lot of people and prepares me for the real world,” says Benny.

The Pace inclusion program is part of a large school known as P226M, a special education “cluster school” with seven units in New York City including the one at Pace. Students who attend P226 M range in age from preschool to 21 and have diagnoses that as well as autism include emotional disabilities, mild/moderate intellectual challenges, language delays, and hearing impairments.

For more information about the film, including contact information to request a copy for screening at meetings and events, visit http://www.kbprods.com/look.html. For more information on the program visit http://www.pace.edu/page.cfm?doc_id=19438 and District 75 at http://schools.nycenet.edu/d75/.

Professional education. Since 1906 Pace University has offered professional education that combines liberal arts with practical experience and the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York. It enrolls more than 13,500 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Lienhard School of Nursing, Lubin School of Business, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. www.pace.edu.

Koffler Pledge Establishes Pace Professorship in Autism

An increasing number of diagnoses of autism and rampant controversy over its causes and treatment has created growing demand for teachers prepared to educate autistic students. To meet this need and clarify the issues, Pace University announced today the establishment of the Michael C. Koffler Endowed Professorship in Autism and the creation of a new national Center for Teaching and Research in Autism.

Contact
Rosemary Mercedes, Pace University
212-346-1637, Cell: 914-424-3845
rmercedes@pace.edu

Diedre Schremp, G.S. Schwartz & Co.
212-725-4500 Ext. 324
dschremp@schwartz.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PACE UNIVERSITY TO ESTABLISH ENDOWED PROFESSORSHIP IN AUTISM WITH GIFT FROM MICHAEL KOFFLER,
PRESIDENT AND CEO OF METSCHOOLS

Dianne Zager, national leader in autism education, appointed to establish what is believed to be the largest U.S. program in autism education

New York, NY, September 7, 2005 – An increasing number of diagnoses of autism and rampant controversy over its causes and treatment has created growing demand for teachers prepared to educate autistic students. To meet this need and clarify the issues, Pace University announced today the establishment of the Michael C. Koffler Endowed Professorship in Autism and the creation of a new national Center for Teaching and Research in Autism.

Dianne Zager, a pioneer in autism education who most recently was a professor at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, has been named to serve the first three-year appointment.

The Koffler Endowed Professorship will allow the University to establish the Center as part of Pace’s School of Education. The Center will research and provide recommendations regarding best practices for educating students with autism.

The University hopes to expand its commitment to autism education by establishing model school centers for children and Centers for Professional Development in autism in select public and private school settings.

The endowed professorship is being established with a pledge of $1.25M from Michael C. Koffler, President and CEO of MetSchools, Inc., a leading provider of private schools serving typically developing and special education students in nursery, preschool and kindergarten through eighth grade programs in New York City. Koffler was the 2004 Executive in Residence at Pace University, a program that each year brings chairmen, CEOs, presidents and other top executives from the world’s leading corporations to interact with students and provide a unique perspective on business problems and opportunities from a non-academic point of view.

“Michael Koffler’s gift will enable the School of Education to increase the number of faculty members with specialization in autism education and to establish what I believe will be the biggest program in the country dedicated to autism education,” said Jan McDonald, Dean of Pace’s School of Education.

“I want this gift to Pace University to directly impact the needs of autistic children by increasing the number of professionals trained to teach them in public and private schools across the country,” said Koffler. “Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the lives of students with autism.”

Leadership A nationally recognized leader in the field of special education, Dianne Zager, Ph.D., brings over 30 years of special education experience to the endowed Koffler Professorship. Previously, she served as Director of Pace’s Special Education Teacher Preparation Program at the University’s downtown New York City campus. Zager has been President of the Northeastern Educational Research Association and the New York State Council for Exceptional Children. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Division on Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities of the International Council for Exceptional Children.

In 1994, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry named Zager a Furman Fellow. She has published numerous books, chapters, and research papers on a variety of topics related to the education of students with disabilities. To wide acclaim, earlier this year she authored the third edition of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Identification, Education, and Treatment.

Zager has served as special education consultant to school districts across the United States, including the New York City Department of Education where she has served on the Autism Best Practices Committee since its inception in 2003. She was the founding editor of the scholarly journal, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, and has served as editor of The Educational Researcher.

MetSchools Koffler’s company (www.metschools.com) currently operates seven schools, with the newest site, Claremont Preparatory School, which opened September 6, 2005. MetSchools’ first program, Sunshine Developmental School, was established in 1985 (www.sunshineschool.org). The company now provides services to over 1,800 children from ages newborn to eighth grade in a variety of academic programs, including special education, early intervention and daycare settings. Rebecca School, scheduled to open in September 2006 in Manhattan, will be solely dedicated to educating children on the autistic spectrum. Rebecca School will provide Pace with its first Center for Professional Development in Autism where teaching professionals will learn their skills.

A private university in the New York Metropolitan area, Pace has a growing national reputation for offering students opportunity, teaching and learning based on research, civic involvement and measurable outcomes. Pace has seven campuses, including downtown and midtown New York City, Pleasantville, Briarcliff, White Plains (a graduate center and law school), and a Hudson Valley Center at Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, N.Y. Approximately 14,000 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Lubin School of Business, School of Computer Science and Information Systems, School of Education, Lienhard School of Nursing and Pace Law School. www.pace.edu