The first semester of Successful Learning Center at Newburgh Orange County Community College came to an end this week. My daughter Sara, a 25 year old adult with special needs—specifically a seizure disorder and learning disability—invited her family & friends to attend her final day of class. The staff hosted an award ceremony on that last day of the semester, and students took turns presenting about what they learned in their class, “Introduction to College Life”.  Throughout the fall, they explored a theme that rang most true to their struggles: “Strong Voices” as they were interested in making their own choices. Much of the class instruction was geared towards developing self-advocacy skills for the students as they navigated their lives with special needs. These students were using a “Strong Voice” to make sure their needs were being met and their preferences were being heard.


Public speaking can be hard on anyone. These fifteen students wrote their own speeches and delivered an exciting collection of essays that spoke about what they learned during the semester.  Their teacher Sherri Capella was very pleased with how much progress each student had made. Many started not knowing any of their classmates, hiding in the back of the class, and hesitant to participate. By the final class, the students were all friends who supported each other, confident that their opinion about what went on in class would be respected and appreciated. Many friendships were evident as the students cheered after each individual speech.

Next semester Successful Learning Center will offer three classes starting January 24, 2014. Sara’s class influenced the selection of Culinary Skills, History of American Cuisine & Photography/Art for the program. During the selection process, we hope she will utilize her newfound “Strong Voice” to tell us which classes she would like to take.

Start talking to your children at an early age about the possibility of going to college.  The more involved they are with their plans about the future, the more willing they will be to try new things and voice their interests. During Sara’s college class, the students developed a plan for next semester, resulting in those new subjects for her and her classmates. This level of empowerment is an important tool for continuing education.  Just because your child has special needs does not mean their educational future ends at 21.

For current high school students with special needs, it is a great time to be transitioning out of high school. There are college programs in Westchester, Rockland and here in Orange for people who are not traditional college students. There are campus opportunities and new “Special needs” college programs to explore throughout the United States.  This is a great chance to help our kids be life-long learners. Check out Successful Learning or email them at