“Catching A Dream,” A Collaboration Between Pace University And AHRC Middle High School

In the fall of 2007, a partnership was formed between AHRC New York City and Pace University.  Initiated by Dr. James LawlerProfessor at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, and AHRC Board MemberDr. Marilyn Jaffe-Ruiz, the partnership offered an opportunity for Pace University students to collaborate with individuals receiving services through AHRC NYC’s Adult Day Services Department while participating in Community Service-Learning Projects.  Service-learning is a method by which young people learn and develop through active participation, in thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet the needs of their communities.  These service experiences are integrated into the students’ academic curriculum, and include student-prepared written accounts of their real-life community-based projects.  This continuing partnership has included a technology project to improve ADS departmental operations, as well as Person-Centered Planning projects in which Pace students were partnered with individuals from Evelyn and Walter Redfield CenterBetty Pendler New York League ProgramDean O’Hare Adult Day Center, and Stephen B Seigel Adult Day Center, to collaborate in a variety of activities, such as music and art expression, cooking, drama, sports, photography, horticulture, and travel training.  The success of this partnership has prompted an expansion of the collaboration between the agency and Pace University, which is called “Catching a Dream.”

Catching a Dream,” Dr. Jim Lawler’s expanded initiative for community engagement, partners Pace University students with students attending AHRC Middle High School, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York.  While earlier initiatives have focused on the engagement of Pace students with young adults and senior citizens with disabilities in AHRC NYC’s Adult Day Services programs, the current initiative focuses on person-centered planning and technology-based projects, as Pace students mentor to the students of the Middle High School.  “These are individuals who can go to community college, if not a college, and transition through a university where the community college has a partnership with the university.  I feel that they could also be in disciplines of science and technology as well, as a long-term goal,” says Dr. Lawler.

Under the partnership, the Middle High School students, (learning under the instruction of Martyn JonesTechnology Trainer,) gain skills that will be helpful to them as they transition from high school into the adult world, such as resume-building, general use of the computer and computer applications.  “Since the students have begun working in this program, I’ve seen big improvements in their computer skills and in their social interactions,” says Martyn.  “They even tell their friends about the program when we return to the school.  They’ve been very enthusiastic!

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Describing her experiences, Hope Garfield, a Pace University student participating in the program as a Student Mentor, says, “In this program, I am working with high school students and helping them create a PowerPoint visual resume.  The slides include information regarding their biography, family, hobbies, and most importantly, their career interests.  It is highly important for them to promote their vocational skills so that they could have greater opportunities to seek and obtain jobs.  Their motivation to learn how to use various computer programs and their significant progress in the acquisition of computer skills contributed to my further understanding, appreciation of, and sensitivity toward individuals with disabilities.”

The “Catching a Dream” collaboration began in October 2010, and included 17 students from the Middle High School.  On May 4, 2011, AHRC Middle High School students participating in the partnership program presented their own person-centered plans to their fellow students and to the staff at the Middle High School, using mini-movies that they created in partnership with the students from Pace.  These 17 students continue to grow through the partnership, during two-hour sessions which are held at Pace University each Tuesday.  According to Jim MaraPrincipal of AHRC Middle High School, 7 more students joined the partnership in the fall of 2011, each attending weekly sessions, held on Fridays.

In October, Chris MuccioliDirector of Education and Dr. Lawler presented an overview of the “Catching a Dream” partnership at the 62ndAnnual NYSARC Convention in Albany, New York.  Their presentation noted the productivity, feelings of self-confidence, and community involvement that both the Pace and AHRC Middle High School students have gained through this partnership.