It was a sad day for Stephanie Garafano when she watched her twin brother go off to college. The Attleboro resident soon understood that she would not be following in his footsteps.
“My parents didn’t have the heart to tell me that I probably couldn’t go to college,” the Attleboro resident said.
However, thanks to the Bridgewater State University and a program known as the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (ICEI), which brings to campus young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Stephanie eventually got word that her local university had a place for her.
“I framed that letter,” she told a packed RCC Ballroom Friday morning. “I was so out of my mind. It was the best day ever.”
The ICEI program is now in its eighth year, and at its annual end-of-year celebration 27 students were honored for the work they’d done in the classroom and as interns over the past academic year. The morning-long event featured poster presentations by the students showcasing the projects they’d completed in and outside of class.
That work was impressive, said Mary Price, director of the Center for PreK-12 Education Outreach, which oversees the ICEI program.
“It shows that all of these students tap into their strengths. And each one of you in this program has amazing strengths,” she said.
The program, which is funded in large part by a state grant, initially had six students. The program relies on partnerships with local school districts, the number of which has grown to 19 from an original half-dozen. BSU this year also pioneered a residence program, which allowed three students to live on campus (that number climbs to eight for next year).
All told, ICEI students took 85 classes and participated in 17 internships.
The audience for Friday’s event included students and their families, peer mentors who work with the students, education coaches, members of the BSU community and educators from the partner districts.
All play a part in making the program a success, said Christina Raeke, a coordinator for the program.
“Thank you for making our students’ dreams of attending college come true,” she said.
BSU Trustee Chairman Eugene Durgin and President Frederick W. Clark Jr. were both in attendance. The president said the ICEI program gives these students access to an education they would otherwise not have. He added that the program has benefits beyond this.
“These students have such a positive impact on the BSU community, as well,” he said. “It’s a home run.”
Each year, President Clark partners with at least one of the ICEI students, establishing a pen pal relationship. This year, Stephanie Garafano was the lucky one, and she and the president stayed in touch all year.
It was one of the reasons, Stephanie said, her first year as a Bridgewater student was special and why she’s proud to be a Bear.
“I want the world to know I go to Bridgewater State University,” she said. (Story by John Winters, G’11, University News)