Almost two decades ago, the number of special education schools in Maryland was reduced with the coming of the Inclusion Movement. This movement advocated for children with disabilities by providing them the opportunity to learn alongside their typically developing peers. For lack of a better alternative, young adults receiving special education services were placed in high schools, where they were expected to learn the life skills needed to successfully transition into society.
That’s when Baltimore County special educator Sandy Fisher decided to do something a little differently. She wrote a letter to the late Dean of Education Dennis Hinkle proposing the implementation of a life skills program at TU. Hinkle was receptive to the idea, and thus the P.R.I.D.E. Program was born.
P.R.I.D.E stands for Partnering Resources in Inclusive Developmental Education. And that’s what this program is all about. The collaborative efforts between Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) and Towson University has allowed for the successful inclusion of young adults with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities in a post-secondary educational environment.
“I remember when we first started the program, I went around to the different departments at the university and blindly knocked on doors,” said Fisher. “But TU embraced us from the beginning.”
Since P.R.I.D.E.’s inception in 1996, over 300 students have gone through the program. BCPS evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each student before determining the most appropriate fit on campus. The 12 students currently in the program have been placed in the Post Office, Bookstore, Print Center and dining halls, where they have been able to learn key vocational skills in preparation for future careers.
Tiffany Wilson was placed at the Post Office at the beginning of the school year. Fellow classmate Daylan Matthews-Jordan joined Tiffany this past January. Some of their duties include delivering the interdepartmental mail throughout the University Union, as well as sorting mail for all other campus departments.
“Working here is a good opportunity because when I go to get a job I can tell them about the experience I’ve had at the Post Office,” says Tiffany.
When Steven Reidy was first placed at Newell Den he was quite shy around the customers. Luckily, the staff at the Den encourages self-reliance among their P.R.I.D.E. students. Now Steven appears comfortable within this environment and has no problem serving slices of pizza to a line of hungry customers.
“It’s really been a mutually beneficial experience,” says Den Manager Diane DiPietro. “We think it’s great having them here as we watch them grow, develop, and advance forward in life. There’s such a good, inward feeling for us to know we were a part of that.”
Bookstore Manager Stacy Elofir points out, “It’s funny because I think they are really doing us a huge favor and providing a valuable service. Kelsey Harlee is the most recent student to be placed at the Bookstore and she has been a perfect fit. She’s so personable and just fantastic with the customers. Kelsey should be able to get a job when she finishes the program. I certainly know I would hire her!”
In addition to Towson University, the Community College of Baltimore County has five campuses which offer a similar post-Secondary service delivery model. Each year, these sites and their respective employers, students, and families come together to honor the students and their accomplishments at the Celebration of Possibilities. In preparation of the big event, students write and practice their own speeches.
This year, the Celebration of Possibilities was held at Oregon Ridge Park on March 10. Over 100 attendees were there to listen to the students’ speeches and socialize.
Post Office Manager Terry Mullen and Mail & Distribution Supervisor Lori Frantz love attending the annual event. “TU usually has the most students and they are always so happy to see us there,” says Frantz. “It’s really very rewarding to see the way they have changed since they started the program,” says Mullen. “The biggest success was a former student, David. At first he wouldn’t look anyone in eye. Now he still calls us every once in a while to see how we are doing.”
When Fisher started the P.R.I.D.E. Program she brought a new level of diversity and enrichment to the university. And Fisher recognizes the important role the university has played in the program’s success.
“On every level the university has just been so kind,” says Fisher. “Everyone really gets what we are trying to do here and it’s really become a reciprocal type of relationship. I’m winning, the students are winning, and so is the university. That’s the beauty of the whole program.”
Written by Amy Juskus