Thanks to a joint program between Point Park University and Pittsburgh Public Schools, some students with special needs have the opportunity to attend college.
A program called Creating Individualized Transition for Youth, or CITY, was started several years ago at Pittsburgh Public Schools. One of the creators, J. Kaye Cupples, now oversees the program and was recently awarded a $15,000 grant to help facilitate research at the university.
Mr. Cupples of South Fayette -- who goes by Kaye, a family name -- is the program director of the special education department at Point Park. He came to the university with more than three decades of special education experience in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Mr. Cupples, 62, said he always wanted to follow the footsteps of his late father, a physical education and health teacher and coach at Fifth Avenue School.
"He taught for 44 years and I wanted to teach like him," Mr. Cupples said.
He began his own career in education in 1973 as a speech pathologist working with special education children in Pittsburgh schools.
"I did that for 18 years and loved it. Then I moved into a variety of supervisory roles, all still in special education," he said.
Mr. Cupples became the director of special education in 1993.
In 2000, he was part of a team of educators who created the CITY program to assist special education students who weren't quite ready for life after graduation, he explained. The Pittsburgh Public Schools created a program in which the students would learn life skills at an actual one-bedroom apartment.
"They would report there for instruction instead of attending their high school after they met graduation requirements. This would help them develop the life skills they would need to live on their own," he said.
The program grew into four community sites that still operate, and college programming is offered for students who may benefit from the experience.
After Mr. Cupples "retired" from the Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2008, he stayed in education, this time in higher education. He went to work at Point Park to help the school establish a special education department. But his goal remained the same: to provide quality education for special needs students.
"They had an education program, but they didn't have a special education component. We wrote the proposal to add special education and submitted it to the Department of Education," he said.
In 2009, the department was approved and Mr. Cupples brought in several of his colleagues to teach at the university.
Today, the special education department has grown so much that half of the students in education at Point Park are getting dual certification in special education along with another area of education.
"We told students that they will be a lot more attractive to hire with the dual certification," he said.
The CITY program offers the opportunity for college students to mentor and attend classes with students with disabilities. CITY students may be auditing the classes or attending for college credit, according to their abilities. Students meet on campus each morning, then some may attend classes or go to volunteer positions. They meet again at the end of the day.
"This program allows these students to see what life is like on a college campus and allows them to be with their peers for socialization," he said.
Pittsburgh Public Schools pay for the transportation, teachers and assistants for the programs, and Point Park provides space and access to campus amenities.
"We have one student who is on an intramural dodge ball team and one of the girls is on the cheerleading squad," Mr. Cupples said.
The grant will be used to research the role of mentoring in developmental social skills, he said.
"The program has been uplifting not only for the kids but for the parents. Many thought they would never see their child in college and some get a four-year degree," Mr. Cupples said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.