Studying special education means more than attending class and studying for tests for University of La Verne student, Miriam Perez. Instead of solely relying on textbooks and lectures, Perez is putting theory to practice.
She started with the book called “Sahara Special” by Esme Raji Codell, which is about a fifth-grader not letting a special education define who she is. Then Perez had each student write about how he or she is similar to or different from Sahara.
“The reciprocal, academically integrated, reflective nature of the Community Engagement in the special education credential program was beautifully actualized by Miriam,” Associate Professor of Education & Coordinator of Special Education Programs Dr. Patricia Taylor said.
In addition to teaching her students about autism, which according to Autism Speaks is “associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues” and is one of the fastest growing serious developmental disabilities in the United States, Perez wanted to give them an opportunity to learn more from an expert.
She wanted to give them an opportunity to attend a conference with internationally renowned best-selling author and autistic speaker Dr. Temple Grandin. She devised a plan to raise money so that several of her students could attend a conference to hear Grandin speak at a conference in November 2013 in Glendale, CA.
“The third day [of class], I started to talk about Temple and how she was also special,” Perez said. “I explained that Temple had autism and that she had found creative ways to advocate for herself.”
Perez contacted one of Grandin’s team members about going to meet Temple Grandin at the conference in Glendale. She was able to get a discounted price for both the students and teachers and raised the needed funds by obtaining a donation from her husband’s company, selling water donated by Sparkletts and donating some of her own money.
“[Perez] engaged with her school and students, got other professionals involved, supported learners with significant disabilities to see that people like themselves can become accomplished, such as Temple Grandin, and developed confidence in her ability to contribute to the community,” Taylor said.
With the money raised, five students from the community-based program were able to attend Temple Grandin’s conference.
“At the conference they were engaged in the presentation, they were able to sit in a lecture room weren’t sure they would be able to do it,” Perez said.
After the conference, Grandin took the time to take pictures with the students.
“Overall, all the work that it took to make the field trip happen, all the letters and phone calls were worth it,” Perez said.
Since the conference in November, Perez has continued applying her community engagement values and has begun the process to start a non-profit organization.
“The non-profit will raise funds to help special education programs in schools go on educational field trips that will expose them to further knowledge in arts, music, science, and literature,” Perez said.
She was inspired by Grandin who said, “problems aren’t problems if we find solutions or a way to overcome the problems.”