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.

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.

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

Bringing the Community Together by CAA TV/Film Director Matt Lindsay

For almost two hours, the energy in the small theater in 3 Below was ecstatic as members of CAA, the students, and filmmakers around the community and beyond joined together to celebrate the talents and amazing stories told about or performed by adults and children with differing abilities. And even after everyone had left the theater to converse in the theater’s small café afterwards for a Meet and Greet, connections and bonds were still being forged by all those involved.

As a Director of the TV and Film Department at The College of Adaptive Arts, I oversee a few projects, both on campus and out in the community, that help CAA and its student body become more prominent in the community. And none is more exciting, more rewarding, than the film fest we hold every year. It does take a lot of work from a whole ensemble of talented staff members as well as some from those owning the venue we hold the event at. But the success of this event is always worth it; seeing our students interacting with professional filmmakers and other members of San Jose (and beyond) and being on equal terms with them both socially and professionally is a truly humbling experience.

Moments like this are what make my time here at CAA worth it. And I know I am not the only one who believes this. These moments also help one realize how blessed we are to work in this environment and move mountains. The students have an energy about them that is infectious in the best of ways, and I am always happy to share that feeling with others. The College of Adaptive Arts has helped grow and cultivate professional and admirable adults in not just the students, but myself as well. Even after two full years (and a few more as an intern/volunteer beforehand), they teach and support me as much as I teach and support them. CAA is a safe, neutral harbor for everyone to be equals working together for a common, unifying goal. If anyone ever doubts their ability to understand, let alone make, anything their mind wishes to share or create, they should remember one vital lesson: If our students can create films or do anything that can be shared and enjoyed by others, everyone can do it too. We can all move mountains.

How Reading and Writing Classes Impact our CAA College Students by School of Communications Director, Danielle Weaver

Reading and Writing classes at CAA are always some of the most engaging, thought-provoking and popular classes at CAA. Currently, CAA offers 2 classes that focus on reading, 2 grad classes and finally 1 class that focuses on reading and writing.  They are very popular and well attended.

As I was thinking of the Theme for our Communications Showcase in February this word struck me. Metamorphosis.  Which is often what I see when our students attend communication classes.  Especially in reading and writing.

The definition of metamorphosis is as followed: a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

Imagine the first day of class an student who maybe like books or reading but is shy and doesn’t want to participate in the reading aloud portion of the class, however, they sit and listen. Listen to the discussions of themes, words, characters and more importantly be present in class. They sit and listen as others read and listen as their classmates share what they think about the book or novel we are reading as a class. Then at the end of the quarter, the shy student’s hand goes up and they want to read. Turns out they can read very well but are nervous to share their voice.

This is what metamorphosis means. Giving them the opportunity to learn about themes, read books that were never considered, learn about characters and how they impact our world, allow them to read. But most importantly gives them the chance to try. To break out of their worldview and examine a new worldview.

I often hear from parents that their special individual likes books and movies. But doesn’t read. I often think to myself, have they been able to try? Reading and Writing classes allow them to try.  And often with just the chance to try. Our students succeed and come back to and take reading and writing classes over and over again.

Danielle Weaver, Director & Professor, School of Communications
College of Adaptive Arts

CAA’s Artists and SCU’s SCCAP Students Create Art and Inspirational Friendships

Over the last few years, College of Adaptive Arts has formed special relationships with college students from Santa Clara University’s Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP). Part of SCCAP’s mission is to create “leaders of competence, conscience and compassion.” Numerous SCU students have volunteered countless hours creating meaningful relationships with CAA students especially students in the art department.

Artists anticipate the arrival of their new friends each quarter. Several SCU students have spent hours with the same artist creating a fun and unique learning experience for both. I’ve had the great pleasure to watch theses blossoming relationships using art as a vehicle for teaching, trust, and friendship. During CAA’s Spring Quarter, SCCAP students hosted an art show of over 25 CAA artists.

SCCAP student, Liah D’sa coordinated the beautiful event held at SCU’s Mission Garden surrounded by palm trees and roses. The evening couldn’t have been better as supportive family and SCU students honored our artists and all their hard work. It was truly moving observing our artists excitement as SCU friends stopped by to check out their artwork.

I am so grateful for the time and compassion the college students have poured into our artists. College of Adaptive Arts will continue to foster these meaningful and inspirational friendships as our artists grow and Santa Clara University SCCAP students become emerging leaders in the community.

By Nicole Ferguson
Director & Professor, CAA School of Art