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Transition program empowers

Culture Editor

Published: Friday, May 4, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 23:05

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Jennifer Waters

McDowell (left) and Lax (right) in the dining hall where they meet other program students and staff for lunch.

 

For many students, completing their college degree is the launching pad for the rest of their
lives. Students James Lax, Michael McDowell and Stephen Kendall are at a similar point in
their careers, both being significantly disabled students preparing to complete their College
Based Transition Program.
 
The program is a partnership of Buffalo State College, People Inc. and Buffalo Public
Schools, and is a three-year, non-degree, campus-based program for students with
disabilities ages 18 to 23, said Best Buddies president and Buffalo State student Kelly
Farrell.
 
“Our main goal is to get the Buffalo State community involved and we do that through
nurturing people with disabilities in all aspects of college life,” Farrell said.
 
In 2001, parents of students with disabilities requested that Buffalo State start this type of
program, which is provided for by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
 
The law requires that transition services be available for students that meet their learning
and social needs while giving them the opportunity to be with peers their own age.
 
“There is an understanding that college also teaches social skills, individual living skills,
transportation skills and budgeting skills, all which are a part of the experience,” Program
Founder Lynne Sommerstein said.
 
The ceremony for the three students completing the Transition Program this year will be
held at 5:30 p.m Friday in Butler Library 210.
 
The Transition Program is an all-inclusive program, according to Director Mary Lou
Vaughan.
 
“It is different than other inclusion programs because students with significant learning
needs are totally immersed in schooling,” she said.
 
These students have not been admitted to the college but are allowed to approach Buffalo
State teachers and faculty for further educational opportunities.
 
McDowell came to the transition program from Summit, an organization dedicated to
helping children, adults and their families with developmental disabilities or behavioral
challenges prepare for life success.
 
He is currently working to complete his program this year and said he plans to look for a
job with a shorter commute after school is over.
 
“I’ve been busy with other stuff and I didn’t even realize it was almost done,” he said.
With an interest in food and hospitality services, he took the ServSafe certification test
and passed, is working for a local deli and spends his weekends helping his sister with her
children.
 
A rather withdrawn character, McDowell said he is thinking of becoming a marine and
called himself a strategist. He also told a story of how he once saved his friend’s life.
“We were all in the deep end horsing around. I saw him panic and start flailing around, so I
dropped my towel and jumped in and pushed him up,” he said.
 
Lax, McDowell’s classmate who is also completing the transition program this year, knows
the hard exterior is only what McDowell chooses to show.
 
“He may look grisly on the outside but he’s a big teddy bear,” Lax said of McDowell.
 
Lax said he enjoys his math and science classes the most because they’re what he’s best at,
but added that he really likes creative writing as well.
 
“I took a really good class last semester in creative writing; we used our creative minds to
design something,” he said. “I designed a chair with a remote in it that controls the lights
and TV and everything, so you can’t lose it.”
 
Lax has interned with custodial and with Sodexo before Chartwells took over his first two
years. After completing the program, he said he hopes to get a job at Wegmans because of
his math skills and because he thinks it would be a fun job.
 
“I always wanted to be a cashier, it was my childhood dream,” he said. “I always wanted to
do engineering, too.”
 
He said he is surprised that the program is over already and is thinking about coming back
to do General Education Development classes next year.
 
“It’s a real honor. I’m thankful that they let me stay here long enough to learn,” Lax said. “I
thank my staff for that too.”
 
Jennifer Waters can be reached by email at waters.record@live.com.

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