At some point in your life, you have probably been stereotyped. If you’re tall, people ask, “did you play basketball?” If you wore glasses as a kid, you were a bookworm. But what if these stereotypes were overwhelmingly negative and continuous throughout your life? What if they were hurtful? What if they didn’t stop?
A popular question that we get about our students when out in the community or giving tours of Pathways is, “Well, can they even learn anything new?” We always feel a bit of sadness after we hear this question. A reminder that a perpetuated stereotype of our students is out there, commonly held, even sometimes in the minds of individuals with great intentions and a desire to help us serve our students.
Our answer is “absolutely, yes.” Yes, our students can continue to learn. We see their growth year in and year out. While our primary goal is not focused on achieving academic growth, we do see that the vast majority of our students do experience growth or retain their reading and math skills each year. We have seen students advance up to two reading levels over the last two years. And students continue to grow outside of conventional learning.
Many of the families we serve have told us that their student didn’t have a very positive experience in K-12 school. Often, students with intellectual disabilities may be mislabeled as being unwilling or incapable of learning. That they’ve “gone as far as they will go academically.” But the reality is that our students often thrive in an unconventional learning environment. The ability to visually process is a critical factor that helps students thrive. To aid learning and engagement, we also incorporate hands-on experiences, the arts, and we work to allow enough time for students to process what has been said or read and allow more time to formulate an answer to a question.
Students may not be learning in a “textbook” way, but we see their growth as lifelong learners every day and we feel so blessed to have so many supporters and volunteers that help us create the environment for it.