Michael Schiro knew in his heart he was going to continue his studies beyond high school. He was interested in computer science and like many young people his age, had dreams of going to college. Because Michael is on the Autism Spectrum, his parents were hopeful but unsure. Throughout his elementary school years, Michael was a bright and curious student, but as he moved onto middle and high school, became easily frustrated and sometimes quick to anger.
While peers were receiving college acceptance letters, Michael’s story was taking a different turn. He applied to three colleges and interviewed with university staff in charge of coordinating accommodations for students with special needs. He was rejected by all of them.
“The modifications offered in K-12 were a double-edged sword,” said his mother, Mary. “He was capable of doing the work, but extremely disappointed by even the smallest ‘failure.’”
A New Direction
Discouraged but determined, Michael and his mother reached out to the Assistant Director of Special Education in their Stamford Connecticut school district. By law, Michael was entitled to educational services until the age of 21. What those services would look like, however, was an unknown. Determined to ensure Michael had a shot at an education that would lead to a stable and fulfilling career, Mary and the school administrator did some research and came across College Steps.
Together with Michael, his family, school officials and the College Steps staff, the team developed an Individualized College Plan (ICP) that would provide customized classroom support through a peer mentor-based model. The program allowed Michael to attend Norwalk Community College (NCC) while living at home. The goal was to help him work toward the behaviors, independence and academics needed to successfully transition from high school into a post-secondary education.
Michael began taking classes at NCC in the Fall of 2015 and was part of the first class of College Steps participants to set foot on campus. College Steps NCC Program Coordinator Tim Pearson oversaw the ICP and worked closely with Michael to ensure his needs and goals were met. Michael’s plan included eating lunch with peer mentors who also provided live coaching of classroom behavior and help interacting with professors. Michael also met regularly with Tim to review homework assignments and discuss any problems that may have arisen over the week.
"I feel like, joining this program turned out to be a huge step toward success in education,” Michael explained. “I've been dealing with difficult challenges each semester. I've been receiving a lot of support from my family, my mentors, and my private tutors for helping me with really hard homework, studying, vocabulary skills, and also I've been doing community group skills with the students who are in this program.”
Ready for More
When Michael informed Tim last fall that he had applied to a four year-program at Adelphi University in Long Island, Tim began “pulling back” on some of the supports in the ICP.
“We met less frequently and Michael began attending class without a mentor,” recalls Tim. “He even took an online course without any review of his work or deadlines.”
When asked why he chose Adelphi, Michael explained, “Because I personally want to go to school in New York after over 20 years of education and support here in Connecticut. I also want to study computer science as my major, and I want to play college baseball.”
Mary was again hopeful but cautious. Although she knew Michael had developed many new skills and independence, she wasn’t sure if the outcome would be different or lead to additional disappointment.
Last month, Michael received news that his dream was coming true. He was accepted to Adelphi. In the fall, Michael will live on campus with a roommate and participate in the school’s “Bridges” program, which offers academic and social support to students with learning and social challenges.
“Joining this Bridges program is a next step for students who need support,” Michael said.”I shall say that this is a perfect fit for me in order to become a successful student. But when anything gets hard, I’ll try to take things step-by-step in order to make things easy. It depends how well you develop the skills you've learned or haven't learned yet."
“I have waited 20 years for Michael to give me that hug,” Mary told the College Steps team after Michael informed her of the good news. “You can imagine how emotional we have all been. I’m sad to say this will be our final semester with the College Steps program, but know it will be another great one as we get him prepared for this huge transition for the fall.”