New Family Thoughts with CAA & West Valley College

Figuring out how to construct a meaningful and engaging life for our daughter, aged 21 when the pandemic began and now 23, was an evolutionary process.  Taking classes at CAA has been one of the best, most engaging, esteem building, fun, challenging (in a good way) pandemic “silver linings” we possibly could have stumbled upon for her.   She LOVES her classes. Emma loves to learn and she feels great pride in attending college in a way that suits her.  (Ie: no traditional homework with the attendant stressors).   Not only are the CAA staff inspiring and positive people, CAA has found a wonderful home at West Valley College.  The campus is beautiful and employees of the college we have encountered have been nothing but kind, generous and supportive.  It is a magical place.

Our daughter Emma has a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome.  Like many disabilities, the characteristics of the syndrome run on a spectrum.   CAA plays to Emma’s strengths in that the content of the classes is first rate.  Instructors don’t talk down to or infantilize the students in any way.  Students are treated respectfully and with the assumption that they are able to grow and learn.  They are taught to treat everyone in kind.  They are students with “differing” abilities with the focus on abilities.   The values of mutual respect, humility, teamwork, etc. are laced throughout the program and are great values to practice out in the world.   The positive ripple effect of the College of Adaptive Arts may be hard to quantify, but we know it is significant.  We are grateful that our daughter is a proud CAA Cardinal.

Not only has CAA itself been a very positive addition to Emma’s life, we have found the West Valley College staff we have encountered to be incredibly kind and helpful.  Our first day there the campus was quite deserted and we were not sure how to find the CAA building.  We saw a lone employee getting into a West Valley College vehicle and we hurried over to ask him for directions.  He kindly told us to follow him and he led us right to it.  This past Friday, I lost my keys on campus.

After Emma’s class we had taken a hike around the beautiful campus, so we had quite a distance to traverse to retrace our steps!  It was late Friday afternoon and I assumed I was going to get value out of my AAA Plus card shortly!  We found ourselves in front of a facilities building.  Though open, no one was at the reception desk and it seemed we were back to square one.  I then saw a phone number near the front door on a smallish sign.  Though the number went right to voicemail on my first attempt, on my second attempt when I planned to leave a message, someone picked up and he was like the angel earning his wings from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life!”  He virtually flew out of the building to meet us in the parking lot, walked us to the police station o campus, chatting amiably all the while, and lo and behold our keys had been turned in there.  We all virtually danced a jig, including the staff at the police station and our tale had a happy ending.  West Valley College Staff have shown us a warmth and civility that is sorely lacking these days!  We are grateful.

Go Cardinals!!

The Mountain is Moving at College of Adaptive Arts

This has been such a transformative and pivotal time at College of Adaptive Arts. We recently created a new organizational chart from the ground up to aspire to achieve 2 million Sustainable/Operational budget & then future-goal-setting of that next expanded structure to support a $5 million sustainable/replicable operational budget. We were able to double our small and mighty management team from a founding team of 2 to the Fierce Four who are working meticulously behind the scenes to bring this innovative lifelong collegiate model to full fruition.

The CAA Mountain Movers board recently launched a ReGroup & Grow campaign to get CAA staff input to help us lay a solid foundation. We are building a robust pipeline of how to expand our onboarding process to bring to the right people who can teach more classes of interest and will maintain the highest expectations for our adult college students who have so much intellect, critical inquiry, & contributions for our community.

CAA has now reached out and has received full or courtesy vendorization in 7 of the 21 Regional Centers around the state of CA. Our goal is to outreach to the rest and to have those Regional Centers help us reach more eager adults out there who have historically not had access to college education. The Mountain Movers board has established Task Forces on Accessibility, Community College Partnerships, Grants & Underwritings, Marketing, and new draft legislation around ensuring an online learning option is here to stay & potential new codes supporting lifelong education for adults with intellectual differences.

We are up to 171+ adult lifelong learners at our first CAA Swenson West Valley College flagship site and in our online learning community. We don’t plan to stop until we reach every adult out there around the world who has been shut out of a traditional .edu collegiate experience. The path forward is through Inclusive Collegiate Partnerships fostering mutually beneficial programs and opportunities that will benefit both programs as well as the community at large. It is possible and the future looks a bit brighter each and every day. We are deeply grateful for the ever-expanding community who is jumping in to help Move this Mountain for these precious and eager adult lifelong learners. It feels amazing, and on behalf of the entire College of Adaptive Arts Mountain Movers Learning Family- we thank you and ask you to join on this epic journey.

#ShareYourCAAStory: Beautiful Testimony from a CAA Student & her Mom <3

“By Paige Delaney Kowalski, with help from Mom:

I am Paige and I am 22-years old.  I live with my sister and my mom and my cat. I already graduated from Post Secondary.  I go to a Day Program at Mission College and I take music, dance, and cooking classes at College of the Adaptive Arts.  Before COVID-19, I worked at the Holiday Inn doing laundry and helping in the Breakfast Room.  I like to dance and sing and hike with my mom and help my mom with cooking and cleaning. I like to talk about movies and actors and singers.  I Google my favorite stars so I can learn more about them.   I love being a part of Young Life Capernaum and I want to be a leader so I can help the younger kids.   I love being a greeter at church and helping the little kids in the Sunday School.  I play Little League Baseball and I am a big hitter. When I grow up, I want to be on American Idol and Dancing With The Stars.   I love my life and I am happy I have Special Needs because I have a special love.”


“When Paige was born, the doctors and the books and the experts gave me lists of things Paige would never learn to do.  It felt like I had been kicked in the gut.  I felt nothing by dread for her future.  Thankfully that feeling of dread got kicked to the curb when I started meeting with teachers and therapists and I realized I was the expert in my own daughter’s capabilities.

Paige has an amazing life. She is compassionate and caring. She loves helping others.  She is resourceful and smart.  When she was little, she brilliantly used her toys as tools to open locks and latches and escape the house.  She is creative.  She choreographs dances to her favorite songs. She is kind and loving. She encourages her friends and always has something uplifting to say about them or to them. She has strong opinions and is not afraid to say how she feels.  She experiences a full range of emotions and expresses them all.  She is constantly learning new things. She is a sponge for information and new skills.  COVID-19 opened up a new discipline of remote learning.  While she prefers to meet in person, she has learned new skills in her classes and has mastered using email!

Last Summer, Paige enrolled in College of the Adaptive Arts. She is taking some amazing courses! When she’s not baking up a storm in her Joy of Baking class, she is learning about the importance of warming up and breath control and posture in Concert Choir. She is learning so much about musical theater and watching classic musicals in her Musical Theater Appreciation Class. She is brand new to cheerleading and she is already choreographing her own routines in Cheer Squad.  She is learning about history and culture while perfecting dance moves in Contemporary and Cultural Dance.  And she is expressing her joy and love of musical theater in Joy of Broadway Dance.

Just like Paige, I LOVE her life.  And I am happy she has special needs and I want to soak up every bit of her special love.”

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.”





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


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!

Contact Info

Get In Touch

Join our mailing list to stay up to date and get notices about our new update.

Subscribe Now