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Sitting in the statehouse office of Sen. Marc Pacheco recently, BSU student Francesco Hladysz talked about his days in high school and the difficulty of watching his friends go on to further their education.
“I always wanted to go to college,” he said.
Francesco, however, has a cognitive disability that prevented him from following that dream. Thanks to a state program, however, he’s been able to spend the last three semesters taking classes at BSU. He’s gained much from the experience, he said, including the goal of one day becoming an advocate for the disabled.
He told this to Sen. Pacheco.
“You’re being an advocate right now,” the veteran lawmaker said. “And it makes a difference.”
Francesco is one of 17 BSU students from across the region who has participated in the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment program, ICE for short, for the past three semesters. The program has provided the necessary support for students with cognitive disabilities as they attend BSU. Funded through a renewable grant, the program allows the students to take or audit classes with the help of an aide at no cost. Bridgewater, UMass-Boston and five community colleges across the commonwealth are participants in the program.
This vulnerable group of students, the majority of whom have not passed the MCAS, are often left behind as their siblings and high school classmates go on to college. The ICE program gives these students the same opportunity as their non-disabled peers to further their education and to improve their prospects on the job market.
The initial program funding was enough to allow BSU to waive the tuition for 12 students. When the 17 applications came in, President Dana Mohler-Faria said to accept them all.
Mary Price, director of the Center for PreK-12 Educational Outreach, implements the program at BSU.
Dr. Lisa Battaglino, dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies, accompanied the students to the statehouse for the recent budget hearing before the state Committee on Education on a bill related to ICE. She has also had Francesco in class. These students benefit greatly from being on a college campus and sharing classes with non-disabled students, she said. But the impact of the program goes beyond that.
“What I find is that the ICE students made the class better for everyone,” she said. “They made that course one of the best ones I’ve ever taught.”
The program makes a “profound difference,” in the lives of participants and the members of the BSU students who get to interact with the ICE participants, Dr. Battaglino added.
The bill before state lawmakers, cosponsored by Sen. Pacheco, would make its funding a permanent part of the state’s education budget. At the hearing, proponents pointed out that the employment rate for individuals with cognitive disabilities is 18 to 23 percent nationwide. However, it’s 42 percent for those who attend inclusive college programs, through programs such as ICE.
Joe Wood, whose son, Sam, has Down Syndrome and attends BSU through the ICE program, said the experience of attending a state university has made a world of difference.
“It’s exciting to see him growing in so many ways,” he said. (Story and photos by John Winters, G ’11, University Advancement)