College for disabled continues to thrive, adapt to success at its Saratoga campus
State pays tribute to co-founder as woman `making herstory'
Deanna Pursai and Dr. Pamela Linsay founded College of Adaptive Arts in 2009 to give adults with disabilities the collegiate experience.
Today, CAA is based out of Saratoga's West Valley College and serves nearly 200 students across nine states, most of whom are living with a developmental or intellectual disability.
“Deanna has grown College of the Adaptive Arts from a 12-person class into a national collegiate model for people with special needs,” said state Sen. David Cortese, whose District 15 includes Cupertino. “She approaches her work with kindness and dynamism, and her steadfast dedication has improved countless lives across our region.”
Pursai, who serves as CAA'S executive director, was named Woman of the Year from Cortese's district as part of the California Legislative Women's Caucus' “Women Making Herstory” campaign. The caucus celebrated women's history month with a March 20 ceremony to honor women throughout the state who have made significant contributions to their community.
CAA'S contributions are expanding, as the nonprofit is registering as an apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor in order to provide paid work at the college for its students.
The new apprenticeships are designed to expand students' vocational knowledge, increase the types of professional skills that students can learn at CAA and allow more students access to employment with the nonprofit.
“So many of the existing vocational opportunities out there are entry-level positions,” Pursai said.
“We're carving a new vocational path for these eager and very willing adults.”
The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation America is facilitating CAA'S registration with the labor department to create teaching assistant and/or receptionist positions.
“We offer technical assistance and modest incentive funding to either new or expanding registered apprenticeship programs,” said the
institute's vice president Deborah Williamson. “(CAA) students will work as classroom teaching assistants and administrative staff for the academy, following rigorous apprenticeship standards.”
CAA'S apprenticeships will begin as soon as possible, say officials, but will be unpaid to start. Four parents have volunteered three hours a week as job coaches for one to three students per shift. Each potential TA or receptionist has gone through two to four quarters of CAA'S employment skills class.
“We have decided it's time,” Pursai said. “We know the money is coming, and the students are champing at the bit. They are really, really looking forward to take the next steps.”
CAA provides 72 classes each week, three that are now in person. The nonprofit has recently hired six paid associate professors and one paid musical accompanist from its student body in order to maintain its 6:1 student-teacher ratio.
“Our unique proposition is that we're employing persons with disabilities to help grow this equitable collegiate model for adults who historically have not had access,” said Pursai.
In the U.S. adults with disabilities are mandated out of postsecondary education at age 21 or 22.
“Our long-term vision is to be an expanded layer of education on every campus of higher learning,” Pursai said, “to become the Special Olympics model of lifelong learning.”
CAA students are embracing this model. “I like working for CAA because the bosses are nice and they understand me well,” said Brighid Kohl, an associate professor and student. “I feel like I have a personal connection with my bosses.”