Pilot Program Gives Students With Disabilities a Unique Campus Learning Experience

Pilot Program Gives Students With Disabilities a Unique Campus Learning Experience

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In partnership with Westport Public Schools, the program provides transition-age students with disabilities access to University facilities, resources, and peer mentorship.

This program is an example of what it means to support equity, diversity, and inclusion and gives these students opportunities to be a part of our campus community.

— Special Education Program Co-Director Alyson Martin, EdD

Co-directors of Fairfield’s Special Education Program Alyson Martin, EdD, and Emily Shamash, EdD, have launched the Fairfield University/Westport Public Schools Transition Program, a partnership with Westport Public Schools to offer transition-age students (18 to 22) with disabilities a unique on-campus learning experience this fall. Three students are participating in the pilot program which includes individualized and small group instruction led by transition coordinator Kelsey LaPrad from Westport Public Schools. Through the program, students are members of the campus community and have opportunities for inclusive experiences with their same-age peers. 

“School districts are responsible for educating students with disabilities who qualify for transition services through age 22,” explained Dr. Martin. “Oftentimes districts struggle to provide these students with genuine learning experiences to help them transition from school to post-secondary life. The program we are offering was designed to create an inclusive learning environment on Fairfield’s campus, where they can access valuable learning opportunities alongside their peers.”

Drs. Martin and Shamash developed the program with Westport Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services, Michael Rizzo ’98, MA'01 who is also an adjunct faculty member in the School of Education and Human Development. Rizzo recognized that through building a partnership with Fairfield and the Westport Public Schools, students with disabilities would have access to an authentic learning environment, same-aged peers, and work and leisure opportunities close to their home community of Westport. 

Westport students attend the program Monday through Friday and receive instruction and related services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language, and social skills instruction on campus. They also eat lunch in the Tully Dining Commons or Stag Snack Bar, often with Fairfield University students enrolled in the special education minor, fifth-year, or graduate program. The Westport students also gain work training and experience at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library and at the Tully Dining Commons with their peers. They have access to the RecPlex, and practice taking public transportation on the Stagbus to gain independent living skills.

“Fairfield stands for inclusive excellence,” said Dr. Martin. “This program is an example of what it means to support equity, diversity, and inclusion and gives these students opportunities to be a part of our campus community.”

“The students are working towards gaining independence as they transition from high school to adult life, and this program provides them with the practice necessary toward reaching that goal,” said Dr. Shamash. “This is mutually beneficial for the Westport students and our special education teacher candidates.”

Drs. Martin and Shamash and the Westport team hope to extend the program to more Westport transition-age students in the future. 

Last year, the Special Education program received full accreditation from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), an honor signaling that the program has passed a rigorous, multi-year evaluation and indicates excellence in the preparation of professionals who work with students who have special needs. The CEC is part of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Accreditation Process. Learn more about the Special Education Program at Fairfield.

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