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Down Syndrome students graduate from ESU

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: May 11 2013 06:07:45 PM CDT

Special needs students graduate at ESU

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. -

Colleges across our area are graduating this weekend, but at East Stroudsburg University, one very special group of students got their diplomas.  All six students in this class have Down Syndrome.

It had all the look and feel of any other commencement Saturday afternoon.

"We are very excited," said parent Anne Marie Dolinish-Meltzer of Lehigh County.

But these are the first graduates of a pioneering program called "Career and Independent Living and Learning Studies" at ESU.

"Probably the only one of its kind in the state," said Dr. Domenico Cavaiuolo, an ESU special education professor.

Students not only take classes, but actually live together in a house just off campus, learning how to live and work on their own.

"We wanted to make sure they learned financial issues that were relevant to what they were going to be using in the community," said Cavaiuolo.  "Things that were related to social literacy, so they would know how to access internet sources and how to read the newspaper so they could cut out coupons."

Programs like this are very hard to come by, especially here in Pennsylvania.  But that could soon be changing.

According to directors here, ten thousand mentally challenged adults don't have access to services in the Keystone State, but recently, Gov. Tom Corbett committed $20 million new dollars to programs like this.

Brian Meltzer, a Parkland High School graduate, plans to get his own place and one day get married

"I have a girlfriend right now at home," he said.

Meltzer's mom couldn't be prouder, but admitted, she wasn't sure this day would ever come.

"He's looking at a long-term relationship," she said.  "He's interested in a career and living independently."

ESU plans to graduate classes like this every year, where students walk away with far more than just a diploma.