HELPING HANDS 'THEY CAN HAVE A CAREER PATH, TOO' SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAM GIVES DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED CHANCE TO ATTEND COLLEGE Special education program gives developmentally disabled chance to attend college.
Legally blind and developmentally disabled, Jesus Morales never thought he could ever study art, let alone attend college.
But thanks to a special education program and scholarship, the 24-year-old Van Nuys man is gearing up for his third year at Los Angeles Valley College.
"I'm ready to learn, study hard," said Morales, beaming outside the art building at the Valley Glen campus. "I love it so much, I just love the place."
Morales is among a growing number of developmentally disabled adults who are attending classes and working at community colleges in the San Fernando Valley.
In 2007, Valley College, in concert with the Tierra del Sol Foundation, accepted Morales and a handful of other developmentally disabled students. Today, the number has burgeoned to 30 students at Valley College and 16 more at Pierce College and the West Valley Occupational Center.
The idea of getting students who read at the fifth- to seventh-grade level to attend college came from Steve Miller, executive director of Tierra del Sol, a Sunland-based nonprofit that has been providing jobs and support for the disabled since 1971.
If his nondisabled son could find his footing in a community college, Miller asked, why couldn't others?
"Those with developmental disabilities can succeed in college with the right support, without having to enter fields such as fast food ... or custodial services," Miller said. "They can have a career path, too."
Miller worked to create the NEXUS Program, which helps slower learners work and study at the school.
At first blush, it had seemed impossible.
Such students were academically challenged and had never taken college prep courses. Then there were issues to allow some to work in maintenance, landscaping and event preparation.
"It's a wonderful win-win situation," said Tyree Wieder, interim chancellor for the Los Angeles Community College District and the former president of Valley College. "It's more than a feel-good thing."
Morales, who graduated from Monroe High School, was afraid to attend college.
But each semester, he found support from NEXUS coaches, mentors and tutors, who helped him enroll in classes, take notes, do his homework, take tests and more.
There are 10 of Tierra del Sol's NEXUS staff at Valley College, plus help from the school's Disabled Students Program.
Of the 24 college students enrolled last year through Tierra del Sol, the aggregate grade-point average was 2.5.
While some developmentally disabled students study for certificates in early childhood education, others take typing, English and other classes to prepare for jobs in retail, customer service or children's services.
Some, like Morales, strive for certificates in graphic arts.
His mother, Rufina Morales, is thrilled.
"I'm very proud," she said. "Tierra del Sol is helping him succeed. I never thought he could do this."
In class, Jesus Morales sits in the front row for such subjects as art history and graphic design. After class he loves to talk art with friends.
At home, he likes to sketch wolves of the frozen North.
Morales, who just won a $1,333 scholarship, hopes to someday work as an animator.
"I want to be the greatest artist," he said. "I do feel it, even at night, when I'm dreaming."
Jesus Morales, who is legally blind and developmentally disabled, is studying art at Valley College, which in concert with the Tierra del Sol Foundation runs a program that now helps 30 students with developmental disabilities.
Dean Musgrove Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 25, 2009|
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