By the time Sara entered High School, I was pretty aware of her academic strengths and weaknesses. That being said, our family knew she would be incapable of entering the higher education system based solely upon her academic skill. Instead, I focused on getting her out in the community as much as possible as a means to prepare her for the workplace.

Sara is very aware that her academic skills are not equivalent to those of a college student’s. She always would say, “no” she didn’t want to go to college and that it wasn’t for her. Luckily we were very wrong about that. We had the idea that college wasn’t for someone with a developmental disability. In the summer of 2013 Successful Learning Center started offering classes at Orange County Community College in Newburgh, NY. I assured Sara that the class would be at her level and designed for students with special needs.  When I told Sara that friends from her day program were going to attend, she felt a level of safety because she understood the abilities of the other students.

The new campus at OCCC is overlooking the Hudson River with spectacular views, there is a cute coffee shop right outside of the classroom, and many students are milling about. Inside room 207, the Successful Learner Center (SLC) students are taking the class “Introduction to College Life”. There are thirteen students exploring a new topic every week. The first class asked the students, “What did they want to study in college?” The discussion of week two: “What is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?” They have homework most weeks.

As soon as Sara gets home she completes her homework. One part of the program that adds to its success is there are students from the Occupational Therapy program volunteering in the classroom as teaching assistants. This allows all the students to get a more inclusive educational setting. Sara’s respite worker picks her up after class. No “Mommy transportation” helps Sara feel like other college students that attend there.

Sara’s teacher, Sheri Capella, has a great amount of patience and skill in working with young adults. The program started at Pace University in 2008. SLC is based on principles that believe individuals with developmental disabilities:

-do not need to be changed, remediated or repaired.

-can effectively identify what they want to learn and what they want from life.

-will experience expanded social interaction, increased self-confidence, communicate more effectively and become integrated with the wider community through learning opportunities based on a college campus.


Classes are also running in Westchester and Rockland County. Students have a choice of innovative courses that range each semester from computer skills, money management, music, to a class in nutrition. Check out their website to find out more.

I asked Sara now if she would like to go to college in January when the new semester classes would be offered. This time I got a “Yes! I would love to go!”