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Summer Program Aims to Help Students with Disabilities Transition to College

Florida agricultural and mechanical university logoOn June 18, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s Center for Disability Access and Resources (CeDAR) welcomed 32 students to the 2017 Summer College Study Skills Institute (CSSI). This program is an alternative admissions program for students with disabilities designed to acclimate the students to the FAMU campus while focusing on providing them with study skills that will lead to their collegiate academic success.

The CSSI is part of a two-year retention program designed to assist students with matriculating to their academic majors and graduating from FAMU.

FAMU William Hudson, Bea Awoniyi, Jovanny Felix, Angela ColemanEarlier this year, CeDAR was awarded a five-year grant from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which will be supported by the FAMU Foundation, to enhance the CSSI program and to create an endowment for CeDAR. This generous grant will allow CeDAR to provide specific instructional support focusing on students’ disabilities and study skills that complement and assist each participant’s particular disability.

The premise behind this grant’s approach is to focus on study styles that students may not have developed while in the K-12 educational system. In addition, each participant receives a $3,000 scholarship for the summer with the intent to minimize any college debt that students may incur during the semester.

With the funding that we receive from JSF and the FAMU Foundation, the program can really work on closing the learning gap in regards to their study skills and habits at the beginning of their collegiate career — which is a crucial time in their academic transitioning. In addition, the summer scholarship diminishes the stress that parents and students have about educational debt.

student reading a bookThe CSSI program allows students to enroll in six to seven college credit hours and includes informational, social and academic based activities.

The 2017 CSSI Summer Program will conclude on Aug. 4 and will include a “Victory Brunch” recapping and celebrating the students’ completion of the summer program.

‘Believe in Yourself’: A Star Student Shares Tips for Scholarship Success

Nancy Stellway, Karla Menchu-Saban and Suzanne Boyd (Photo by Living Exposure)

Photo courtesy of Carl Dawson/Living Exposure

From the time she was in middle school, recent high school graduate Karla Menchu-Saban set her sights on attending Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I used to say, ‘One day I will study and graduate there,’” said the teen, who attended Lake Worth Community High School, a few miles up the road from FAU.

Her dream is coming true, and in a big way. The first-generation college student will be attending FAU this fall with all expenses paid, thanks to several scholarships.

Since her freshman year, she has participated in the JSF-funded Johnson Scholars college preparatory program at her school. The program, offered at seven high schools (10 next year) in partnership with the School District of Palm Beach County and Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County, provides mentoring and other support for students to make a successful transition to college.

Those who successfully complete the program are guaranteed a two-year tuition scholarship. However, that was just the beginning for Karla. She was named a finalist and eventual recipient of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders 4 Life Fellowship, which offers up to $40,000 for college. Only six highly motivated students from across the state of Florida were selected for this award.

(To see a video of Karla finding out she had been chosen for the fellowship, click here.)

A mom and her three children

She said that she is grateful to God and her family, friends and community for helping her to reach this point. “I hope one day I can give back, and I don’t expect anything back because it comes from my heart,” she said.

During her high school years, she maintained a high GPA while being dual enrolled in classes at Palm Beach State College. She also was involved in her school’s Air Force ROTC program.

At FAU, she plans to study education. She also has an interest in nursing and eventually would like to work in the field of pediatrics.

What advice does she have for other high school students who hope to obtain scholarships?

Karla Menchu-SabanWe all have the ability to accomplish anything. “We all have goals and dreams to accomplish,” she said. “The only way to complete that is by having your head up. Have a positive attitude and believe in yourself.”

We all can overcome any circumstance, no matter what. “I know there can be many obstacles that can hold you back, but it’s up to you overcome that issue. You must think of whom your benefiting and why are you doing it.”

Be true to yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek out guidance. “Mentors are individuals who offer support, guidance and encouragement. They help a child to build their dreams and goals.”

Cake with logos in icingAmong those she considers her mentors are her mother, Maria Saban; Take Stock In Children Palm Beach County Executive Director Nancy Stellway; Johnson Scholars Program Specialist Wanda Kirby; Johnson Scholars Site Coordinator Abbe Gleicher; Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Director of Program Services Marilyn Schiavo; Palm Beach State College Post Secondary Advisor Cynthia Trager; Lake Worth High School Assistant Principal Caelethia Clemons; and her family, friends “and every individual who supported me in every aspect. They all were there from the beginning and will be there for me until the end.”

Lastly, perseverance is the key to success. “My dream came true based on my willingness to strive for excellence in my education, along with perseverance.”

The Fading American Dream

Raj ChettyRaj Chetty is a professor of economics at Stanford University and has been recognized by the American Economic Association as the best American economist under age 40. His current research focuses on equality of opportunity: how can we give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding?

Professor Chetty’s research shows that the American dream of upward mobility is fading. An American child from a household with an income in the bottom quintile has a 7% chance of achieving an income in the top quintile. By comparison a Canadian child in the same situation has a 13% chance, almost double. Several other nations lead the US in social mobility. This is in spite of America’s prowess in producing private wealth.

Father holding child's handAnother finding is that the odds of a child earning more than his or her parents are declining. In 1940 there was a 90% chance that an American child would earn more than his or her parents. By the 1980s chances were about 50/50. Only time will tell but there is no reason to think that millennials will fare better.

The potential for upward economic mobility used to be the unique promise of American society. Unfortunately this potential is being realized by increasingly fewer people.

United states on a globeThe reasons for the fading American dream are complex. Professor Chetty’s research shows that geography is a factor. Children in the southeast states are not as upwardly mobile as children in most other parts of the country. There is also a correlation between neighborhoods and mobility. A child from a racially integrated neighborhood has a better chance. Causes for this can be debated. However, the value of education as a vehicle for social mobility is something that everyone can agree on. There is a direct correlation between the amount of education a person acquires and the amount of money they earn over a lifetime.

student walking in an aisle of booksJSF’s mission is to “assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment.” We can equate the word “disadvantaged” to households with incomes in the bottom quintile (the upper limit for these households is about $21 thousand per annum). JSF focusses on the education and employment of these people. We seek to address the problem of inequality of access to good education. The evidence that this makes a significant difference is overwhelming.

American flagI recently referenced a survey, in which only 13% of Foundation CEO’s said that they believed Foundations make a “significant difference.” Some of the CEO’s (and the surveyors) cited the “sheer magnitude and complexity” of the problems as one reason for not making a significant difference. It seems trite to say that a foundation, or anyone else, can only make a significant difference if it directs its attention to a discrete aspect of a problem.

No foundation (or government) can “fix” the American dream. A foundation can, however, play a part in the movement to assist disadvantaged people to advance economically and thereby make a significant difference.

How Leading with Empathy Can Create Positive Change

deaf elementary students playingAs an educator, it is important to pay attention to the latest research and trends related to effective instruction. As a special educator, this may be particularly important. But as an administrator, I often find myself relying heavily on my own observations and findings from “the field.” Working as an administrator of an elementary school serving deaf and hard of hearing students, children are often in my office requesting assistance. Sometimes they arrive on their own, asking for help solving a problem. More often, though, they are brought to the office by an adult who asks for collaboration on a discipline issue.

The word “collaboration” here is really important. In a traditional approach, the administrator may be the final stop, and may have the final say, when it comes to discipline. However, I have found it is more effective to collaborate with both the student and the staff member escorting the student. When children display misconduct, it is our job to figure out why. What does the child need?  What might he or she be asking for through this outburst of anger? This can be especially important when interacting with deaf or hard of hearing students who are also struggling with a language delay – which happens so often. When my approach becomes one of trying to understand, rather than trying to find an appropriate consequence, I am able to know the student’s thoughts, feelings, and fears more intimately and am able to develop a strong and positive relationship.

young students in green t shirts in a gardenWhen I ask the same questions of the adults, I become a support for them, showing empathy regarding the conflict they did not create, while also collaborating to find an appropriate resolution. This questioning of the adult reminds the student that staff members also have an emotional perspective, and such perspectives can lead to actions. Leading with empathy for everyone involved can produce amazing discussions and amazing results.

Leading with empathy. This can sometimes be considered being “soft” on misbehavior. However, in my work, I have found it solves more problems than being “tough” ever has. When students are upset, a genuine affirmation of their feelings can open doors to communication, bonding, and improved self-control. While that may sound difficult, it only takes a simple, “I am so sorry you are going through this; how can I help?” delivered with respect, and compassion. When we can do that for children, we can help them to become empathetic and compassionate individuals.

woman wearing a feather boa and smiling in a paradeWhen we invite them into the collaboration, we can help them become problem-solvers. If I have learned one thing from 22 years in Deaf Education, I have learned this: The world needs more problem solvers, and we can create them through empathetic thoughts, words, and actions. Leading with empathy builds a foundation that allows students to experience growth socially, emotionally, and academically because it allows them to acquire, develop, and practice real-world problem solving skills. And yes, sometimes I have to consequate kids because there are some behaviors that need a punitive response. But sometimes living through the conflict, and coming out on the other side, is consequence enough. When was the last time you got sent to Detention Hall because of a fight with your spouse? The disagreement and the resolution of that disagreement was consequence enough for you. And here’s the important part – involvement in working through conflict becomes a positive peace-making experience for everyone involved. Our kids and school staff deserve such experiences. I’ve learned that they become better people having had them.