‘It’s her purpose’: Parents sound the alarm on Mission College closing its disabled adults program

‘It’s her purpose’: Parents sound the alarm on Mission College closing its disabled adults program

1/22/2022 5:17:00 PM

‘It’s her purpose’: Parents sound the alarm on Mission College closing its disabled adults program

After nearly two decades, Mission College is ending its program for students with developmental disabilities next June.

Until this past year, Liz Schwartz had never heard her 23-year-old daughter read more than a street sign or words flashing across the TV.For the last year, she has been a student at the college program for students with developmental disabilities — classes that Schwarz says have been vital for her family, and given her daughter a place to socialize, exercise and learn.

Niall Adler, a spokesperson for Mission College, says the portable classrooms where the program is usually held when it’s not online are more than 30 years old and slated for demolition as the campus plans to make way for a new business and technology building and STEM center.

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January 22, 2022 at 6:05 a.m. | UPDATED: January 22, 2022 at 6:15 a.m. Until this past year, Liz Schwartz had never heard her 23-year-old daughter read more than a street sign or words flashing across the TV. But now at their Sunnyvale home, Schwartz now has been listening in awe as her daughter, Paige Kowalski — who has down syndrome — reads aloud from “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, the children’s novel about a young boy who was born with a facial deformity. It is the latest book that Kowalski’s class at Santa Clara’s Mission College has been reading over Zoom. For the last year, she has been a student at the college program for students with developmental disabilities — classes that Schwarz says have been vital for her family, and given her daughter a place to socialize, exercise and learn. “To actually read a book, this is a brand new skill that she has learned in less than a year, and I did not imagine that she would ever do that,” Schwartz said. But the program, which has been around for nearly two decades, is coming to an end in June, leaving parents shocked, confused and with few other options. Niall Adler, a spokesperson for Mission College, says the portable classrooms where the program is usually held when it’s not online are more than 30 years old and slated for demolition as the campus plans to make way for a new business and technology building and STEM center. The college was originally going to end the program last month, but Adler said they ultimately decided to push the timeline out to this year to “provide families an ample amount of time to find accommodations.” But Schwartz says it still may not be enough time as waitlists for similar programs are lengthy and could take up to a year to get into. Her daughter’s cognitive level gives her really only one other option: Hope Services, a San Jose-based nonprofit that caters to individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions. If that doesn’t pan out, she’ll most likely have to work part time or take a leave of absence to take care of Kowalski, which could be difficult as a single mom. SUNNYVALE, CA – NOVEMBER 17: Liz Schwartz, left, and her daughter Paige Kowalski, right, are photographed in their home on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Sunnyvale, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)  Schwartz still hasn’t wrapped her mind around exactly what she’ll do if her daughter doesn’t get into another program in time. “If it’s a short gap, working from home she would be safe, but she wouldn’t have a very enriching program,” she said. Maria Daane, the executive director of the nonprofit Parents Helping Parents, described day programs like the one at Mission College as “lifelines” for those attending. After high school, she said many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities often fall off of a “services cliff” when they no longer have access to the daily formal education they once had. “These programs focus on independent living skills and integration into their community,” Daane said. “They provide structure, stability and support where the individual is given the opportunity to learn and grow in their skills. These programs enhance independence, confidence, and mental and emotional well-being.” Transitioning into a new program can also pose challenges of its own — especially for long-time attendees — and trigger, “some very challenging behaviors that will need to be supported by families already stretched too thin,” Daane said. Kathy Abriam-Yago’s daughter Amy Yago, 34, is one of the long-time attendees at Mission College’s program for students with developmental disabilities. Yago, who has cognitive delays and is nonverbal, has been in the program for more than a decade. Abriam-Yago said the program has empowered her daughter, whose developed in ways she hadn’t thought possible, like finding other ways to communicate and mentoring students despite being nonverbal. Like Schwartz, she’s at a loss and not sure what she will do come June. “Being able to find more potential for her, being able to find more things that she could do and be involved in, this is what the school has given to her,” Abriam-Yago said Several parents said they were never directly contacted by Mission College. Instead, they found out from other parents. Lizy Flores’ daughter Nicole, 31, has down syndrome and has been in the program for close to ten years. Flores said it “means the world” to her daughter to be able to say she goes to a college. Although Flores did receive an email about the program’s closure, she questioned the college’s lack of communication with both parents and students — some of whom she said live in care facilities. “I advocate for Nicole, but how about those students who don’t have anyone?” she said. “What were they going to do?” When asked if the college contacted all parents and caregivers, Adler said he was “pretty sure” they did. Over the next seven months, Mission College plans to work with its sister college, West Valley, for any programming options that students can take there. That’s little solace for some. “I think we’ll go through a depression for a while, that’s for sure,” Abriam-Yago said of no longer having the program. “It’s her purpose. It’s her growth.”