CAA: An Innovative Lifelong Educational Experience

College of Adaptive Arts provides an equitable, lifelong collegiate experience to adults with special needs who historically have not had access. Founded in 2009 with 12 students in 1 musical theatre class, CAA has grown operationally 1608% to serving consistently 128 adults in 1-hour distinct adaptive college classes within 10 Schools of Instruction: Art, Business, Communications, Dance, Health & Wellness, Library Arts, Music, Science & Technology, Theatre, and TV/Film.

The premise is that any adult who wants to continue learning, growing, and becoming the best versions of themselves has a safe and engaging space to do so. Adults only sign up for classes that they have an interest in. There are no tests, grades or papers, and homework assignments are always optional. Adults ages 18+ are welcome to enroll who are still learning to read, write, and even to speak. Social cognitive skill-building happens in each class due to the nature of the ARTS Curriculum – allowing adults to Access new content, Respond to new concepts, Transfer to an activity/practice, and to Sustain new skills in long-term memory by individual sharing & showcasing.

In March of 2020 when the Shelter in Place orders in Santa Clara County were put into effect, CAA was well-poised to take courses fully online. They had been developing and utilizing distance learning thanks to an infrastructure build-out grant from Adobe Foundation in 2016. CAA was able to fully embrace Zoom and take all 58 distinct courses online that last week of the Winter Quarter. Spring Quarter brought more adults hungry to continue learning, and the Summer Quarter which began July 6 has enrolled even more adults and expanded online course offerings to over 70 distinct classes each week.

CAA’s vision is to become as widespread and accessible in education that Special Olympics so effectively provides with sports. To this end, CAA has entered into its first historic partnership with West Valley College, whose Board of Trustees voted unanimously in July of 2020 to allow CAA to use portable space to continue the program while becoming a work-study/living lab/leadership training model for community college students. CAA believes this model of expanded college education will be able to fit on any and every campus of higher learning one day.

CAA Student Ambassadors are ready to give Zoom tours to anyone who would like to learn more about this innovative educational model of lifelong learning.

Dr. Pamela Lindsay: Univ of Phoenix Blog

College of Adaptive Arts proudly shares University of Phoenix’s latest Blog Post on Dr. Pamela Lindsay, Ed.D/CI, Co-Founder & Dean of Instruction:

Alum launches College of Adaptive Arts to provide equitable education experience for adults with special needs

Caregiver holding a senior woman's hands

A George Bernard Shaw quote was a catalyst to something life-changing for Dr. Pamela Lindsay. It reads, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” She includes it in her email signature as a reminder of the important work she is doing to educate adults with special needs.

In 2009, she helped launch the nonprofit College of the Adaptive Arts (CAA) in San Jose[1] to provide a college option for adults with disabling conditions who have aged out of traditional educational support.

Today, CAA has more than 100 students aged 18 and up taking more than 40 course offerings each quarter among nine schools of instruction.[2] CAA degrees are nontransferable and do not prepare students for job placement or a vocation. Instead, the curriculum is about feeding their curiosity and providing each individual with creative ways to participate individually, in groups and as leaders to show mastery of a concept.

Dr. Lindsay believes everyone deserves an education and CAA was designed to give those without traditional pathways access to a college experience.

“Our students have a hunger for learning, and they want to keep learning more. So, we give them that platform to explore what is interesting to them,” Said Dr. Lindsay, who earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, leadership in special education at UOPX. “For our students, we must engage them to lock what they are learning into their memory. It’s the same key cognitive development concepts needed in all areas of life.”

The idea for CAA was set in motion over a decade ago, when Dr. Lindsay and co-founder DeAnna Pursai, participated in a theater and choir fundraiser for students with disabilities. Many of the students who performed that night were “aging out” of the supportive programs, as state-sponsored support for children with special needs lasts through age 22. After that, educational opportunities are limited to those who can meet a college’s admissions standards without modification.

Dr. Lindsay and Pursai reached out to families to see if they might have adults with disabilities interested in classes in the arts. At first, a handful of special needs students interested in the arts joined music classes hosted in Dr. Lindsay’s home. From there, classes grew into a space for adults with disabilities to learn to live a full and empowered life as contributing members of the community through an arts-focused education.

They found they had the support and a solid base of students and families interested in participating. They needed a plan to turn their classes into a college.

Despite both having a passion for special education, the duo decided to take a divide-and-conquer approach to build CAA.[3][4] Pursai took on the role of executive director and pursued training to learn more about finance, business building and navigating funding sources. As dean of instruction for the College, Dr. Lindsay searched for a doctoral program to create the academic infrastructure for CAA.

She quickly learned that developing a curriculum that worked for these students would be difficult. She believed that it couldn’t be modeled after existing curriculum. She felt that it needed to be built from the ground up and focused on leadership and applied learning. Finding the right terminal degree to meet her needs was a challenge.

She discovered University of Phoenix’s doctoral program, with an educational framework built around the Scholar, Practitioner, Leader (SPL) model. The model focuses on lifelong-learning, leadership and positively impacting communities and workplaces.[1]

Through each course of her doctorate, Dr. Lindsay created materials and brought to life the vision she had for CAA’s curriculum. The result was ARTS, a curriculum model that builds on four key cognitive-developmental concepts, modeled after SPL. ARTS stands for: Accessing concepts, Responding to concepts, Transferring to independent understanding, and Sharing through leadership.

The University’s SPL model is designed to allow doctoral candidates to connect theory, learning and practice within an individual’s field so that thought leaders become producers of change.[2] Dr. Lindsay incorporated this into her curriculum focused on leadership and application. Programs are concentrated on the arts and each student’s learning is based on mastery of concepts and sharing it as a leader.

Pursai said she feels blessed to have Pam at the helm of curriculum and instruction for CAA.

“Pam is a true pioneer in her field. She established a curricular model and helped establish new procedures and processes to enable workflow to be streamlined, professional and easy to access,” she said. “Pam is so steadfastly committed to giving adults with intellectual disabilities a safe and engaging educational space to continue learning, growing and becoming the best versions of themselves.”

At CAA, meaningful participation in a course and demonstrating growth based on the ARTS model earns them credit. Students have the opportunity to earn a non-transferrable undergraduate degree when they complete 60 credits and move on to a 120-credit non-transferrable graduate degree and a 240-credit non-transferrable post-graduate degree.[3]

Dr. Lindsay is excited about what the future holds for CAA and its students. In addition to embracing the George Bernard Shaw quote, she and Pursai also march forward with the mantra “once a learner, always a learner,” and continue to seek out connections and networks of opportunity to grow the college.

“We serve one of the few groups not able to access education in an equitable way,” she said. “And we are finding more ways to do that.”

[1] http://www.collegeofadaptivearts.org/about/

[2] http://www.collegeofadaptivearts.org/about/

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-pamela-lindsay-9001602b/

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/in/deannapursaicaa/

Why We Give by John O’Farrell & Gloria Principe, Longstanding School of Theatre Underwriters

We have been proud College of Adaptive Arts School of Theatre Underwriters for the past 5 years. We have watched this small and mighty college grow tremendously over the years. When we first heard about this equitable collegiate experience for adults with special needs, we were amazed and impressed that a place like this existed. We were quite proud to invest in this innovative collegiate model.

We believe this is a wise investment, as we know there are so many adults out there that are yearning to be able to continue their education to become successful contributing citizens in their own right. Adults whose educational opportunities significantly decline once they are mandated out of the public school system at age 22. Adults who won’t be able to access that accredited degree on a traditional community college campus, but who are quite capable, eager, and hungry to continue learning and growing and reaching their full potential.

We are proud to watch our investment more than double during the past 5 years as College of Adaptive Arts student enrollment has grown from 45 adults in 20+ course offerings/week when we first got involved to now enrolling more than 121 students in over 53 distinct course offerings each week. We believe this team has the tipping-point abilities to take this lifelong equitable collegiate model nationwide and beyond. This team has demonstrated fiscal responsibility and creativity, using donations to grow the model over 1000% since inception.

During this period of the year we are most grateful and thankful to the hard work and dedication of the College of Adaptive Arts team. They really are Moving Mountains for adults who historically have not had access to college education, and they are empowering their student body to Transform Perception of disability more and more each day. Please join us if you can in helping this small and mighty college model reach its full potential and impact.

Challenging the Minds by Danie Weaver, Director, CAA School of Communications

College of Adaptive Arts is known for their dance classes, their art classes, theatre classes, and hip hop classes. However, some classes get less notoriety but are just as important. Did you know that every quarter, CAA offers eight classes that fall under the Communication department?

In these classes, students are challenged to use their minds and explore the world beyond their blinders. Let’s take the reading classes, for example. This quarter both the reading classes are reading works by C.S. Lewis. As the students are reading these fantastical novels, they are not only reading classics, but they are learning vocabulary, learning about themes, they exploring worlds that many may not have explored. Beyond learning about literary devices, students are learning the importance of loyalty, faith, how they learn to trust other people.

Speaking with Confidence, students learn the importance of good posture, eye contact, and vocal variety. Students are learning the significance of having a good handshake, how to carry on a conversation with others and how to be proud of the thing that they love and own it as part of who they are as a person.

In Grad writing, students learn how to approach difficult topics such as anxiety, loss, and even wishes and wants. The students also learn to stand up for their beliefs, explore who they would be in an alternate universe, and how to respond to life’s ups and downs. They learn how to express who they even when they are struggling.

In Poetry, students learn about alliteration, haikus, and rhyming. Students are learning the importance of connections in the world. Everything is connected, and those connections are beautiful, even poetic.

In Sign Language, Students are learning a new language through songs and lyrics. But more than that, they are learning about other cultures and discussing society’s norms and how they affect everyone.

C.S. Lewis said, “You never know what you can do unless you try, and very few try unless they have to.” In communication classes, students try and achieve because they have to. Because challenging the mind is akin to challenging the soul. Students flourish and become readers, writers, and successful human beings.

Thanks and Kind Regards,

Danie Weaver

College Of Adaptive Arts

Director, School of Communications

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” A.A Milne.

An Inspiring Message from CAA’s Board Chair Joe Siecinski

Hello Mountain Movers,

I am very disappointed I cannot be there to celebrate our 10.10 Epic 10-Year Anniversary in person.  I wanted to pass this on to the team and to the community:

It is my honor and pleasure to work with this amazing organization.  A great man once said, “if you want to change the world, change the way you look at the world”.  We are changing the way the world looks at things and thereby changing the world.  I would like to thank the board, staff, volunteers and most of all the students we serve.

We have come such a long way with the guidance and leadership of our esteem cofounders Pam and DeAnna.  From a 1 room, 1 school with 12 students to an organization with over 120 students, 10 schools and a staff of 32.

Congratulations team!!!

We are now moving the Mountain and the best is yet to come.  We have an aggressive plan a dedicated board and a devoted staff.  We are taking the leap of faith to get to a self-sustaining funding model to expand across the Americas and the world!

With the support of the community we will move this mountain.  We will be self-sustaining and we will change the world.

I look forward to the coming years and all the contributions we will make to world!!  It is MY HONOR and PRIVLEDGE to be associated with this phenomenal Team.

Thank YOU and Go CAA

-Joe

Kim’s Story – CAA’s Inaugural Valedictorian of 2013

CAA Kim’s Story

In early September 2009 my daughter Kimberly and I heard about a new performing arts college & were told by a friend that the directors were beginning to hold interviews at a dance studio, in a mall, for folks interested in this newly formed college. I thought that was very interesting. My daughter, Kim, was 31 years old at that time. She had Down Syndrome and a Tracheostomy tube for breathing. My expectations were both high and low regarding this college. Kim was very high functioning…. She had many years of dance training but her trach?????

Her trach held her back from many opportunities, as she needed me or her Dad or a respite care nurse, to be with her at all times, to monitor her breathing. What did we really have to lose by going for an interview, I thought, plus Kim couldn’t wait to see what this college was all about! If it included dance & performing, she was “all in 100%”.

As we approached the dance studio, I could see two women sitting there waiting for us! I was nervous but Kim, being Kim, couldn’t wait for the interview to start!

I realized right away that these two women, DeAnna Pursai & Pam Lindsey, were the most loving two women (actually angels) that I could ever want to meet. True blessings.

We talked about Kim and when I started to talk about her tracheostomy…. DeAnna piped up and said… “TRAIN US!!!”. Tears still come to my eyes as I recall how sweet & accepting they were of Kim. Kim was enrolled in THE COLLEGE OF ADAPTIVE ARTS that very day!

Kim went on to perform not only dance (jazz, ballet & Latizmo), but she had opportunities to speak about this wonderful college! She also took part in theater performances and went to PayPal with her professor to learn more about public speaking. Eventually, she was chosen to be the Dance Department’s first student choreographer. Our biggest thrill of all was her becoming CAA’s first ever Valedictorian for the class of 2013! There were many graduating students in May 2013.

Students earned credits for classes they took. Kim earned many credits in her first few years at CAA. Any opportunity to be on stage, give a speech or announce a graduating student’s name made Kim’s day.

Our daughter Kim passed away on December 17, 2017 from a heart attack & cancer. The last two years of her life were spent mostly in the hospital and at home. Guess what??? She was able to Skype in to a class while at home or in her hospital room and take part in her CAA classes. She could see her fellow students & her boyfriend Robert using her iPad & they could see her! If there was a dance class, she could dance with her arms & her big smile. She felt good about herself, & in turn, she kept her will to live despite how fragile she was in those two years.

Kim would want the world to know that CAA is the greatest place in the world to mature, to grow in learning & public speaking and performing. DeAnna Pursai and Dr. Pam Lindsey are still the same wonderful, caring supportive angels they were the day we first met them.

Kim loved CAA. And so do we (her parents).

Submitted by: Candy Rains. 8/19/2019. Kim’s Mom.

A Breath of Fresh Air by Professor Sharon Lea

College of Adaptive Arts is a breath of fresh air for so many.

When you walk through the doors of this amazing college you feel invigorated and relaxed all at the same time. The joy is palpable as students want to talk about their life as a college student.  They are a CAA Cardinal and they beam with pride.

CAA is not only a place of learning – it is a place of healing for students and staff alike.

When I first came to CAA as a volunteer, life had handed me back-to-back blows knocking the wind out of me.  I couldn’t breathe at all.  I wanted to help others in some way to get myself back out into the world again and yet, I needed so much help myself.

In April 2012 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. After five weeks of radiation treatment and subsequent surgeries, I was free and clear. My husband and I were so very thankful.  Gene testing showed I was at a low risk of reoccurrence.  The future was bright and we were so blessed to know we had gotten through such a tough time, together.

My Scott, saw me through it all.  But life knocked the wind out of us again.

In October, 2013, Scott was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer.  He fought a brave fight, but within 9 months, Scott was gone.  The man who had helped me through my own cancer journey, was going to be my guardian angel now.

I was left reeling and wondering how two big tragedies could hit one right after another. I was in shock and I was numb.  Even though I was out and about, I couldn’t breathe.

Through a friend, I found CAA and started volunteering.  My first day, I walked into Pioneer High School where students were rehearsing Greasy Hairspray, one of CAAs many productions and I felt the fresh air as it entered my lungs. Something happened to me.

For the first time in a long time, I felt that I could breathe again and maybe in some ways for the first time. I too have a learning disability, even though I have an English degree and years of professional work experience under my belt.

The beautiful faces of our students, their positive energy and desire to learn made me get out of myself.  I was able to see the life I still had and the future that was mine. Everyone I met was overcoming something and growing stronger. I knew that I could too.

I still missed my husband dearly, but I knew that he would want me to be happy. I wanted to be happy and I knew happiness is a choice. Professor Jay Torres of Latizmo Hip Hop Productions tells her students to make a choice, take a chance and make a change.

CAA is an amazing college and our students show me every day that we are all on a glorious journey to be the best version of ourselves…which is enough already!

Perspective of a Longstanding Donor

CAA is such a great organization; I am amazed at its growth in just a few short years, all because of the persistence of leaders like DeAnna and Pam.

I trained and worked as a high school English teacher, many years ago.  My students were awesome.  Many of them were “Communication Skills” students, 9th and 10th graders who could barely read.  How they had graduated to the high school was perplexing.  They had a reading teacher, and I was their writing teacher.  There wasn’t much to that for most of them.  Getting the thoughts down on paper was working, but getting capital letters at the beginning of sentences and periods at the end was not working for all of them.

I couldn’t believe that so many people were so challenged.  I sent the most writing-challenged to the counselors for evaluation.  They came back to me with the answer that yes, they had identifiable problems, but no, the services were not available to help them.  Ugh.  At the same time, I continued my education by taking special education teacher classes, and getting my Master’s Degree in Education with a secondary emphasis.  The topic of my thesis was based on audio versus visual learning in the classroom.  I didn’t prove much, but I learned a lot about people and their brains.

That was many years ago.  I left the education field and went into the business world, which is where I met DeAnna Pursai, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. She and Pam were getting into the non-profit world.  I was amazed at their goals, which aligned with my own experience.  By this time, I had my own special needs son, whom my husband and I helped navigate through both public and private education.  Today he is a successful special needs adult.

Donating to CAA helps other special needs adults to grow, prosper, and enjoy being successful.  Success is different for every human.  I encourage donating to CAA, so that more adults will have the opportunity to find their success.

Erin

Erin Benford
REALTOR®, MA
Erin@BenfordRealEstate.com
(408) 644-5159
www.BenfordRealEstate.com
CalBRE# 01372912
Condos to Castles in Silicon Valley

Two Very Special Behind-the-Scenes Mountain Movers

It is with the highest honor that College of Adaptive Arts introduces to you two integral Mountain Movers that work tirelessly behind the scenes to grow this innovative collegiate model: Richard Hermerding and Bobbi Tafoya.

Richard joined CAA in 2014 as their part-time CFO. He helped get all finances streamlined into Quickbooks and helped guide the organization to use monthly financial statements to grow strategically and prudently. He was the first to catch that CAA’s information had been compromised during the big Target breach many years ago. He has helped ensure we all know about depreciation and journal entries of logging gift cards. He attends each board meeting and has been a steadfast rock of strategic guidance and oversight. Since Richard has joined the Mountain Movers leadership team, CAA’s operational budget has more than doubled, and striving for financial health and sustainability is at the forefront of the Mountain Mover Leadership Team’s mindset.

Bobbi Tafoya is CAA’s monthly bookkeeper and Regional Center invoicing lead. She helps to code each and every transaction to the correct chart of account code, and she runs the monthly board reports in a timely and professional fashion. She is the one who also inputs attendance each month to the Regional Center portals for processing. She meticulously keeps track of how many units are left on each student’s Purchase of Service (POS), and she works professional with the Regional Centers to support the over 100+ students who now have their tuition covered each quarter by the Regional Centers.

These 2 CAA unsung heroes are gracious, professional, and diligently work behind the scenes to support and grow this innovative, lifelong collegiate model of education. They are both fully committed to helping to bring this model to full fruition so that it can replicate and sustain and being as robust and accessible to adults for education that Special Olympics provides for adults who want to keep participating in athletics.

These 2 leaders never ask for any credit, are never in the limelight, and are so very essential to the financial and procedural growth of College of Adaptive Arts. To Richard Hermerding & Bobbi Tafoya, College of Adaptive Arts Salutes and Honors you today and everyday as true Movers of the Mountain to illuminating and cultivating the authentic abilities of adult learners of all ages and abilities.

The Power of High Expectations

This month in College of Adaptive Arts 10th Anniversary of creation, we’d like to honor a very special professor this month in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month in June. Professor Jay Torres is an exceptional leader in the special needs community as well as the community at large.

College of Adaptive Arts was privileged enough to meet Jay in 2014 through a connection from the Director of the School of Dance. She visited a class one auspicious fall evening soon after we were forced to exit our original site due to a significant rent increase. The time was right for everyone to find each other, because Jay joined our staff soon afterwards. The College of Adaptive Arts’ students have blossomed, the School of Dance has blossomed, and Jay Torres has absolutely blossomed into an incredibly exceptional and exquisite human being.

Isabella Jay Torres gets a group hug from her adult students with disabilities following her Latizmo dance class at the College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose, California, on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Latizmo is a combination of urban hip-hop, and salsa dancing created by Torres. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)

Jay is an individual who has faced some keen complexities in life.  Having suffered significant abuse as a child, having entered into jobs to fulfill the wishes of others, and having experienced a bout of homelessness, Jay found College of Adaptive Arts. She confided later that she had never worked with special needs individuals before this time.

This turned out to be a profound blessing, because she treated her students just like any other student studying dance, with the highest expectations, constant guidance, and support, and lots of lots of repetition. She has never once felt sorry for her students, and in turn, her students pour their heart and soul out during her Latizmo classes, so hungry and eager to learn more and more complex choreography and dance moves. Finally these adults found someone who truly believes in them and does everything within her power to bring out the very best in the students.

I witnessed these expectations first-hand this past quarter on a Wednesday night during a Latizmo Dream Team touring practice. She had asked for an extra half hour of practice for the quarter to get the students ready for some wonderful touring opportunities including at the sjDANCEco dance festival and the Redwood City STEAMFest. During one of these lengthy practices, I overheard Professor Jay state, “That was o.k., but I know you can do better.” Other comments throughout the class included “You are a professional dance team, and I expect you to perform as such.” And “That was good, now do it again!”

I observed lots of lots of dedicated, exhausting, absolutely fulfilling practices.  Once she came over and started conversing with me during class while the students performed the entire, intricate dance routine entirely on their own. It was absolutely magical, and I could feel the pride of the students knowing that their professor cares and believe in their abilities through and through.

Another magical moment when was the Latizmo Hip Hop Dance Troupe had the opportunity to perform at Great America one summer for Disability Awareness Day. One of her students, below, was initially considered a shy, nonverbal student who had a hard time in the beginning even coming into class, let alone speaking into a microphone. After a year of relentless dedication and support, this student spoke into the microphone to a crowded audience the 3 bedrock tenants of Latizmo, Patience, Passion, and Perseverance.

Why Jay chose a positive path forward is a truly humbling and astounding testimony of the human spirit. This professor radiates love, compassion, and the highest expectations. It is the highest honor to have her as part of the College of Adaptive Arts family of Mountain Movers. Indeed, Professor Jay has created such a rich and engaging space of opportunity and possibility to allow her students to Move Mountains once regarded as insurmountable and impossible. And it has been with sincere patience, passion, and perseverance.

Learn more about Professor Jay Torres and Latizmo Hip Hop Productions Here:

https://www.facebook.com/kqedarts/videos/1817915938281181/?v=1817915938281181

https://www.kqed.org/arts/13819076/san-jose-hip-hop-dance-class-inspires-teacher-to-reach-for-the-stars

 

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