Lessons of the Heart
By Cynthia Lee
Published Oct 1, 2007 12:44 PM
They are almost Bruins.
Their excitement about what's in store for them this fall is palpable. It's in the eager glances and smiles they give their parents at an orientation session when meal plans, roommates and welcome week activities are discussed.
It's the new Bruinwear they donned — fresh out of the shopping bag — for their first class meeting.
It's the pride — even awe — with which their parents watch them assemble around the Bruin Bear for their official class portrait.
"It's inconceivable that our kids are actually doing this," confides Kathe Beltran, whose daughter Kate is in the class. Inconceivable perhaps to some because these 16 young adults have intellectual and other developmental disabilities — Down syndrome, autism, Asperger's syndrome or other disorders that affect their intellectual abilities — and because they are going to college as members of the inaugural class of Pathway at UCLA Extension.
"For us, it's a dream come true," says UCLA professor of economics Moshe Buchinsky, as his daughter Sivan talks enthusiastically about the prospect of going to basketball games with her dad and dropping by his Bunche Hall office or meeting him in the Murphy Sculpture Garden.
The result of a 10-year push by parents and UCLA educators, Pathway has been carefully crafted to offer students a college-going experience as well as a curriculum that blends academics with the practical skills these young people will need to live independently. Guiding it is an educational advisory council that includes Deans Aimée Dorr of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and Cathy Sandeen of Continuing Education and UCLA Extension, and chair Olivia Raynor, co-director of the Tarjan Cemter at UCLA and director of the National Arts and Disability Center.
"It's the first time I have met people who seem to get it," said Jacque Martin, whose daughter Heidi Sand is in the class. "There's so much more in terms of opportunities to empower these kids to do more than just get through life."
While Pathway students will earn certificates rather than college credits or a degree, college-going will offer them a chance to make long-term friendships, develop independence within a semi-protected environment and "be in a place where you can learn about yourself," adds Pathway Executive Director Eric Latham.
Living in apartments near campus, Pathway students will take classes in four UCLA Extension buildings and spend 60 hours a month learning to pay bills, budget, make medical appointments, use public transportation and cook, among other life skills. They will study at the library, exercise at the Wooden Center, eat in the dining halls, hang out at Ackerman and participate in campus life. At the end of two years, Pathway will help students transition to independent living.