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:


A Riveting Parent Perspective

How do I begin to describe the wonder we named Kaleaha Marie Maldonado? We have been blessed to have her in our lives for 30 years. We were told average life expectancy of a Jacobsen Syndrome child was 2 years old. We were told this by a genetic counselor when she was 3 years old. That pretty much sums up the information from 1970 we had until Kaleaha was 5 years old.

Around this time, I learned of the human Genome Project: The main goals of the Human Genome Project were to provide a complete and accurate sequence of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up the human genome and to find all of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 human genes.

How did this affect us? Thirty-five families from all over the USA agreed to meet at Southwestern University in Dallas Texas. It was going to be a costly trip, so we needed help. A wonderful radio show team called The Dog House the hosts JV (Jeff Vandergrift) and Elvis (Dan Lay) helped us out by doing a fundraiser. JV swan from Alcatraz Island to pier 39. JV did it! His team and listeners Raise enough money and got us to Dallas Texas.

We all met there, and that evolved into the 11Q R&R USA group. You can learn more about that by looking up That was the beginning of a parental community that help me navigate the rest of Kaleaha’s educational years. I learned about IEPs and different types of programs to request assistance for.

Kaleaha’s educational learning started with regional center programs like early intervention programs. She had to learn sign language at 1st since she couldn’t verbalize well until after age 3.  She was having multiple ear infections, and it took until this age to get her treatment to remove fluid from behind her ears to allow her to hear our voices.  Prior to this her hearing was as if she was underwater.

Kaleaha continued from 18 months all the way through 22 years old in the public education programs. After the age of 22 we had a few special day programs that we tried out for adults. This is where most of our difficulties began, we tried the various programs that would allow a 1:1 aid to assist Kaleaha.  After trying the multitude of adult special day programs that were available in our area.  I was pretty much ready to give up.

We switched Kaleaha to the Independent Living Skills program known as ILS. This worked out well for a little while a couple of years in fact.  Then we ran into difficulty with staffing so now we started using different companies. We always ran into the same problem staffing. It was never consistent, and this seriously affected Kaleaha’s mental and cognitive abilities, severely triggering her negative autistic tendencies.

We were incorporating ABA Therapies at the same time as using the ILS services, so we were able to hunker down refocus and bring her out of the cycle. Then we started looking for new programming.  With a referral we visited College of Adaptive Arts. We visited this campus. We were skeptical at first about its functionality with an individual who required a 1:1 aide.

Kaleaha’s ILS service provider thought it was worth a try she was very impressed with the progress she saw with her other clients. My fear held me back for a little bit, but I really wanted to get Kaleaha into a program that would provide her with more normalcy like she had throughout her previous educational years. I thought, “Well let’s give this a try.”

We selected some courses and arranged various caregivers. Kaleaha started her first day at College of Adaptive Arts. It took a little bit to find her groove but once she did, she took off like a rocket! She started participating in programs that got her back out into the community. Classes that rekindled her love with cheerleading. Reading and speech have become new interests for her. She participated and several events and her collegiate career has been on a fast track at lightning speeds ever since.

As a family, we do not believe Kaleaha would have accomplished the amount of success and overcome the many hurdles that she overcome had not been for the staff and programing at the College of Adaptive Arts. They have formatted a program that seeks out abilities and applies the knowledge to format a curriculum that allows individuals with different abilities to prosper and shine like the superstars they are.

Kaleaha is one of the lucky students to have found the wonderful staff and program that is The College of Adaptive Arts.  Please come a visit the program there is nothing to lose, but everything for your student to gain.

Spotlight on Graduate Student James

James Crownover has been a student at the College since the Fall of 2009. James is a natural performer and entertainer. He is very much most in his element when he is captivating an audience. James takes his job as an entertainer and performer very seriously. It is apparent that this talent is his innate gift and ability, and he regards this role as his true job and contribution to the community.

James has a very electrifying and engaging way of saying hello to the audience. When he delivers his booming laugh, his audience invariably just melts and is putty in his hands. He has performed well over 75 times over the years, from being Elvis at Christmas in the Park to being the Master of Ceremonies in his top hat and long tailcoat. James is kind, inclusive, and always has a warm smile for all his fellow classmates. He is a true gem to the College of Adaptive Arts, the entire Mountain Movers leadership team feel so proud to be able to showcase his authentic abilities.

I’m a Lucky Guy by Bruce Tirado, Father of CAA Student Ariel Tirado

I’m a lucky guy, lovely wife ✔, good son ✔, & sweet daughter ✔, let me share some of my lucky story with you, regarding the youngest in my family.  Ariel joined our family nearly 21 yrs ago, and was a pretty cool, calm & well collected little gal upon arrival.  Maria & I, were not so calm, but eventually we all settled in.  I never expected my daughter to be such a force, to have so much life, laughter & joy, she makes me laugh every day, and smile, and wonder, and generally feel quite cheerful, whenever I am in her orbit.  Ariel knows how to have fun, I don’t think there is room for a word such as “mundane”, in her vocabulary.  Just walking along, seemed to be a party, with this young lady (photographic evidence follows).

In addition to being a proud member of the CAA student body, Ariel is a “Make-A-Wish” gal.  Yup she took her entire family to Disneyland …. Ooops, I mean DisneyWorld, (her “Wish”) & so it was her treat, she flew our entire family out to Florida, put us up at a resort, had her own spending cash, and a fun time was had by all, for a solid week.  So not only did Ariel fight off cancer (A Complete Success), she took, her entire family, out on vacation along the way.  I love my Ariel, she is a kind gentle young lady, and her CAA community means the world to her, our entire family, appreciates the CAA community very much.  I sometimes say to Ariel I am her friend, and she says…. Nope,,,, I’m her father,,, I think I want to also be part of her community of friends, as her friends mean so very much to her.  CAA, means allot to Ariel, and Maria & I.   I’m so glad Maria met DeAnna & Pam those many years ago, we have enjoyed seeing Ariel blossom, with her community of friends, seeing the students, explore all their talents.   Ariel truly enjoys performance arts, and CAA has been a great experience…. Congratulations to the CAA Community, it’s been quite an excellent ride, 10yrs of Excellence, I/we are looking forward to the next 10.


Ariel’s Dad  (One of my very best titles)

Careproviders are Superheroes on Earth

I have had the honor of being my sister’s primary careprovider for the past 3 months. My sister is a 45 years-old, has Down syndrome, is severely overweight, has a 45 degree curvature in her spine, and has numerous other medical conditions.

I have never felt so exhausted, overwhelmed and exasperated while at the same time feeling so content and fulfilled. I have the most utter, deep respect and awe for careproviders. I believe they are the true superheroes on Earth. Here are some lessons I’ve gleaned and observations I’ve experienced while being my sister’s primary and full-time careprovider:

  • I did not know it was humanly possible to brush one’s teeth for a half hour. It is. On good days.
  • Bodily functions and all that entails are real, constant, unpredictable, gross, and ongoing, and utterly exhausting.
  • I had no idea that anyone could be stretched to the max and be pulled in so many different directions simultaneously – dealing with a broken refrigerator, and a husband’s surgery, and a ER visit for the sister, all while managing a teenager and all of her school pick-up/drop-off needs.
  • She could vacillate on a dime from being my sister holding a rational, typical adult conversations to becoming childlike and vunerable needing extreme and immediate support and care.
  • I realized that her demeanor directly reflected mine. The more I exhibited stress, irritability, the more she behaved the same. When I was mindful to keep my demeanor in a place of love, kindness, and serenity, she also would exhibit the same.
  • Maintaining healthy personal relationships with others in your life such as a spouse, friends, colleagues, and children is demanding, challenging, and anguishing and is an underlying source of tension and angst.
  • I experience unbelievable bursts of delightful, refreshing childlike innocence. She exclaimed one day, The ‘ups’ truck is here. I had no idea what she meant until I saw the brown UPS truck. I then realized when she kept saying she wanted to go to the ‘ups’ store, that is what she meant. Another time I had a long talk to her on the way to my college about how she had been mean to another student, and I needed her to do the right thing and apologize. She gave me a guilty look, pondered a moment, and exclaimed, ‘I came out here all this way for nothing!’
  • I realized how much I valued and appreciated the tips and advice from other careproviders, gaining valuable tricks and wisdom as we were passing each other and the hallway and experiencing brief bursts of respite sitting together during classtime.
  • Just when you think you’ve got one facet of life under control, another issue crops up at impeccably inconvenient times.
  • When providing care for another human being, you enter into almost a different time dimension where everything operates at a slower pace, almost like navigating in a parallel universe.

I truly believe that careproviders are Superheroes through and through. For anyone providing direct care to someone on a constant basis, they are giving the ultimate sacrifice and for sure the best versions of themselves. For parents of children with special needs who have done this their entire lives with no end in sight, I salute you, I honor you, I thank you, I am in awe of you, and you are sincerely and truly Heroes on this Earth.

Janet Heathcote: School of Dance Visionary Director

Janet Heathcote is a true inspiration to College of Adaptive Arts, to the special needs community, and to anyone who has ever had the pleasure to meeting and working with her. She’s been the Director of College of Adaptive Arts’ School of Dance since CAA created distinct Schools of Instruction back in 2013. Her and her husband were also early and instrumental members of the College of Adaptive Arts Mountain Movers leadership board to create this innovative collegiate model of lifelong education.

She holds the highest expectations of her students. The students come into classes with their heads held high, in the required black dance leotards, ready to learn and push the boundaries of their potential. She is a strong collaborator with fellow dance organizations such as the New Ballet, Los Gatos Ballet, and sjDANCEco. She is a fierce advocate for including all forms of dance and all abilities of dancers in the professional dance world. She was instrumental in facilitating the ability for one of our CAA dancers who happens to have Down syndrome to choreograph a piece which was performed on a professional stage, making history and raising the bar of possibility for artists and performers with differing abilities.

Janet is the mother to a CAA Professor who happens to have autism, a CAA student, and an CAA JR Cardinal College Prepper. She and her family have experienced their share of love and family anguish, and are a shining example of forging forward everyday with love, possibility, and strong family bonds. Janet is a sincere blessing to College of Adaptive Arts, and her legacy that she has set for the School of Dance will live and reverberate for generations to come.

Take a Chance . . .

   Take a Chance

   In 2012, I was being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I attended a Showboaters class at the College of Adaptive Arts. Pam Lindsay was leading the class and lesson was that I learned in a college theatre class. I walk out of class with my mom and younger sister (who was the student in the class) impressed with the respect given, the terms that were not dumbed down and the joy that the students exhibited.  I knew my sister Denae was enjoying her education opportunity, she was trying new things and learning and I saw my happy go lucky sister blossom.

Then in October, I was able to attend the Abilities Expo where Denae was performing with the puppet troupe and again I was impressed. This time I reached out to DeAnna Pursai and said I love photography, love writing, let me know if I could come and work or teach classes. It wasn’t until January 2013 that I started as an Associate Professor.

At the end of Spring, I was riding with DeAnna in her car when I mentioned that I was a cancer survivor and that one thing that helped me through my journey was poetry. I thought maybe we could have a poetry class. DeAnna and Pam liked the idea and that summer I was teaching about Haikus, Villanelles, and Sonnets to 6 students. Out of 6 of the students, I had one who said they knew what poetry was and liked poetry. After this class, one of the parents approached me and said I helped their student feel smart for the first time. My heart broke because this young man had gone his entire life not feeling smart.

We continued Poetry class, then there was Sign Language, and Reading Partners, and Grad Writing, Business Writing, Storytelling, Writing Lab, Spanish, Speaking with Confidence. Pam and DeAnna approached me and asked about a communications department.

Every new student that takes a Communication Class, the parent always says the same thing. My student cannot read or write, or I don’t even know if they like this subject but I want them to take an academic class, and this one fits in their schedule.  I am always surprised by those students who take a chance on a new class; those students end up enjoying their class. They remember characters, they embrace poetry and love reading. The wonderful thing about Communications classes we create spaces where the real world and fictional world coexist. Students can relate to characters from novels, and this helps them overcome their struggles. The act of writing becomes a cyclone that helps Students with things in the past and they get stronger. They thrive all because they took a chance.

Keep Writing, Keep Smiling, and Keep Learning.
Danie Weaver
Director of School of Communications.

Libraries are Forever . . .

Libraries are forever….

When I tell people that I’m a Librarian, the first thing they say is “aren’t libraries going away?” And then my head explodes from keeping a silent “aarrrghhhh!” silent. I then very passionately explain that libraries are not going away. As long as we have words, and we use the words to communicate and learn, and we preserve the communications no matter how long or short or in different languages from different people who have different ideas and theories and opinions, we will have libraries.

Libraries used to be for the wealthy and/or the religious. With the advent of the printing press and scholars who translated books from Latin to modern languages, the total number of volumes increases. Subscription libraries, circulating libraries, and the modern public libraries put books, newspapers, magazines, and (more recently) e-everything in the hands of the common person, educated or not, wealthy, or not, literate or not.

In times of war, it is the Librarians who run around and find the most valuable objects to protect the memory and history of the people the library serves. In times of joy, it is Librarians who proudly display books and poems and objects made by the community the Library serves. Libraries are community, a gathering spot to learn, use equipment you don’t have, share. Some libraries provide breakfast, sometimes clothing, and always a place to sit, read, relax, and accidentally snooze. Librarians as a people are warriors, fighting for truth and justice, protecting civil rights, correcting wrongs, and ensuring both sides of the story are available.

When I take a breathe, my attention turns to CAA’s Library and Media Lab. I remember the hands shooting up in the air after I gave a status report to the student and parents’ councils. One student wanted a book about golf, another wanted a book she read at her grandmother’s house, and another wanted a book of the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie. I said yes to all, whether I was familiar with the title or not. I took my collection development cues from the student and professors. I learned what the students liked; one read stories of the Yeti with her dad, another read the Harry Potter books. Another didn’t read but enjoyed a flip book of dragons. I wanted to make sure the students saw themselves in the shelves, saw the vast and glorious community they are a part of.

This idea of belonging and community was very apparent when the library cards were handed out. Everyone received a card; reading level, age, interest didn’t matter. The library card represented a bond between members of a community. To me, it represented a promise, that there will always be libraries.

Suzanne Williams

CAA Librarian

Reflections from the School of Art Director :)

It was just expected years ago that I go to art college. I painted and drew on anything that didn’t move, so when I began my college career at the Academy of Art University is San Francisco, I dreamed my painting future would be like that of Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, or Mark Rothko without their unexpected endings. Not so.

During my last semester of college, I visited Creativity Explored in SF. The variety of artwork created by adult artists with developmental and hidden disabilities inside this large and colorful studio was breathtaking! These accomplished artists’ paintings, drawings and sculptures were so pure and moving. I spent some time drawing with a woman who was nonverbal, but she spoke loudly. Her colorful drawings, expressive line-work, and beaming smile said everything she could not. I left school that day, changed in my ideas about who else can create art, but more importantly, how much these artists touched my heart.

Jump forward 9 years and through divine intervention and an amazing friend, I met two passionate and courageous women who were starting a college in San Jose for adults with differing abilities. They needed an art instructor and an art department and wanted to know if I was interested. To say I was excited couldn’t nearly describe how I felt. I experienced that heartwarming sensation I felt all those years ago and I knew that this was my tribe.

Now as we celebrate our 10th Anniversary as a college for adult individuals with differing abilities, I can’t help but reflect over CAA’s monumental growth. We’ve nurtured countless classes in the arts, health and wellness, communications and more in many locations. Each move, bringing new experiences to a population of individuals who might not ever have had the opportunity to be creative and express themselves in art forms such as dance, music, or art. For four years, our fearless professors set up classes out of the trunks of their cars, packed them up to travel to and from generous businesses with a little bit of space and a shared belief in our vision for the college which allowed us to grow.

Established colleges around the country for the most part have offered typical adults opportunities in the arts for decades, becoming artists (like myself), actors, writers and entertainers who influence our culture, enrich our lives and fill up social media. But those colleges must have begun from humble beginnings… much like College of Adaptive Arts. Right?

When I see CAA students eyes light up at a new song they will learn or a non-verbal student try their hardest to record a sound for a clay animation voice over, I can’t help but feel that these novel experiences are reaching the hearts and minds of our students just like today’s typical college learners.

Thank you to the families for recognizing that our adults too have dreams of becoming future creatives that make up and contribute to society. To think that only decades ago, people with developmental differences, physical challenges and the like were not only thought as burdens, but also hidden away from society is so heartbreaking. CAA students have so much to offer and share with the world in ways that might look different from typical college students and adults, but still just as valuable and unique.

Each week, I get the privilege to bask in CAA students unconfined joy, witness unconditional friendships, and unbridled eagerness to try and try again as all lessons we can learn from. And most importantly, we all need each other to do this.

All of our college communities deserve seasons to be learners, teachers, mentors and friends.

Recently, I had the unexpected and exciting chance to go back to Creativity Explored and talk about art and autism. I could never have done this if I hadn’t experienced all of these roles just because of one chance opportunity over 16 years ago in a college class which completely changed my life’s purpose, career, and my heart.


Director, School of Art
College of Adaptive Arts

CAA #CardinalStrong

“What Will You Do With Your Building Permit?”

By Pamela Lindsay

I love this picture. It depicts everything that inspired this college. Our students are proving every day how they are capable of great imagination, incomparable growth and achievement of their deepest dreams.  This may look like a picture of a graduation. It is so much more.

This 10th Anniversary brings grateful reflection on the paths that put the pieces and all of us together. In 2009, I was breathing a sigh of relief after completing my master’s degree in the school of Radio, Television, Film and Theatre at San Jose State University. I had settled into a position there as an instructor and theatre director. The topic of my masters’ thesis focused on the arts, education, and social cognitive skill-building. The research had ignited a spark of understanding that for all of us, the key to future opportunities is one simple thing: understanding of our own needs and identification of options to meet them.  The options we identify and help others to understand often point to our personal giftings and, when we embrace them, our joys.

I continued ongoing research into curriculum models and instructional tools that might benefit the college students in my typical classrooms who happened to have hidden developmental and other learning disabilities. It was important to me that those college students understand that there are many approaches to learning, as there are to life. I experienced with them that in those moments when they perceived a door had slammed shut, we could shift their focus another direction down the less traveled (and usually much more interesting) path.

My road to Cardinal life also included work for almost a decade as a consultant to families of learners with differing abilities. I enjoyed the ongoing challenge of finding and delivering special curricula that would fit the continually evolving needs of young people with varied learning challenges. This included my own daughter, who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome.

Little did I know DeAnna and I were on intersecting journeys before we ever met. When we did, there was instant recognition of a kindred spirit. We have many lovely things in common, but what ignites our partnership in this CAA effort and as soulmates on this historic road we are all traveling upon was perplexity over the wonderful options for individuals with differing abilities that turn on a dime and slam doors with cut-off dates and “drop zones.” Who in the world came up with the plan to close doors on programs important for health and wellness, academic education, personal development and community contribution because of a birthday? Certainly not our brilliant Cardinal flyers! They are working hard and taking names!

They are overcomers. That’s why they inspire us every day. When these students make a decision to attend this college, it means they are making a decision to look for an open door. They are choosing to step through it and blaze that less-traveled path for others to follow. They are stepping up. They don’t ask for education, they expect it to happen. And we love those great expectations. As co-founder and Dean, my work in educational development continues toward programs and materials that meet these high expectations and evolving needs through work toward a Doctorate in an area of academics with many potential closed doors-leadership in higher education for students with developmental disabilities. No problem at all; our students just keep reminding me to look for the open ones.

So when they cross the stage at our CAA graduation ceremony, it is not just for a piece of paper. It is their building permit to take it all up a level, every time. It’s a symbol of dedication to and appreciation for the countless earned credits that set them apart as shareholders in their community, and as part of its solid foundation.

They aren’t hoping for opportunities, they are learning to create their own. That’s why it is such an overwhelming joy for De and I to be there on stage to hand them their next diploma.  And shake on the promise that they never have to leave because of a birthday. And to let them know how honored we at CAA are by the gift to serve as architects for their ground-breaking past and future achievements. They are #Cardinal Strong!!