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Posted by on in News
Reflections from Pam

When I reflect on the past several years, it seems unbelievable that our CAA family is experiencing the College of Adaptive Arts’ seventh year providing an innovative collegiate environment for lifelong adult education. We at CAA use the term “family” very purposefully, as it is everyone’s college. Students, families, teachers, staff, friends and supporters continue to build out this new platform spotlighting learning abilities that still-quite unbelievably-come as a surprise to many in our community.

As co-founders, DeAnna and I both firmly believe in CAA students’ passion to learn and in the lasting value of an educational path that has no boundaries. Though few would dispute the idea that education is a powerful tool for personal growth, no tier exists within diploma-based programs at mainstream colleges offering our differing learners similar academic goals as their peers. This drives us toward analyzing and dissolving related barriers. We have found that the biggest barriers exist within narrow perceptions of what a college is and how accessible it should be.

The idea of alternative, specialized adult learning strategies can sometimes be perceived as devaluing to the mainstream, traditional college experience. However, the traditional “brick and mortar” perception of learning is changing. No longer restricted to buildings and books, information now travels freely in many different ways through portals powered by technology and interpersonal connection. This is a good change for those who have traditionally been left out of the mix within typical college learning paths, and a golden key for our students with differing abilities.

CAA maintain a vision of a typical campus with buildings for our various departments, similar to traditional colleges. Such representation can be extremely equitable for our students. At the same time, CAA’s current pursuit of learning spaces deserving of our most treasured student body involves fewer and fewer walls and an increasingly broad net of support among respected industry professionals and environments. This exciting development is due to the wonderful fact that those who get our students are excited to get them going in areas of interest and passion, providing them with platforms for sharing their knowledge.

Your support is also changing perceptions daily. This includes perceptions of what it means to attend a college, earn credit, and pursue diplomas within an ongoing, adult learning journey. Will you help us spread the word to adults who can benefit from opportunities to learn and grow through creative approaches accessible to all? Simply share this wise message from our students: “Show your smarts. Learn the arts.”

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Season's Greetings from Founder Pam

Season’s Greetings!

One surprise has been our recording studio, built with love and generosity by the team at Barry Swenson Builders and filled with packages of equipment and instruments by a grant from the Silicon Valley Creative Guild. The dream of developing original and distributed music will soon be more than “visions of sugarplums.” Instead, it will be a reality in which the passion of students in CAA’s School of Music can be shared through an expanding and professionally recorded repertoire.

We are also celebrating the gift of ongoing connections to other college environments, including Santa Clara University’s SCAP program and Stanford University’s Department of Human Biology. Each year, I am pleased to participate at Stanford as a panel expert in a course on autism. I am thankful for the continued opportunity to join other professionals in our community in guiding the students of this course as they expose stereotypes and illuminate abilities of individuals with differing abilities. This course has become one of Stanford’s most popular, filling up just minutes after the opening of registration. Our students can look forward to their own chance to connect with them through participation in future studies. Watch for more information on when and where CAA students can join our Stanford friends and researchers in support of Nobel prize-winning efforts to understand how those with autism and other differing abilities think and learn. “Opening the shutters and throwing up the sash” on such knowledge would truly be a wonderful present indeed.

Our own little “sleigh and eight tiny reindeer” continues to be our CAA van and its V-8 motor, powering our touring ensembles across the state to entertain and excite. This year they have performed for schools, professional arts groups, amusement park crowds, and audiences at regional and state-wide events. We are all very thankful for our little green machine…but a new wheelchair-accessible charter bus remains very high on our wish list!

As the CAA Cardinals look forward to “settling down for a long winter’s nap” over the break, our professors are in their workshop creating new surprises for the Winter ’16 quarter. Here are a few hints: “”the three R’s,” “city leadership,” and “scholarly investigation.” You will be thrilled with what they are wrapping up for all to enjoy!!

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From the Benford Team of Sereno Group Real Estate


Our relationship with the College of Adaptive Arts began several years ago, when my mother and I met DeAnna Pursai at the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. DeAnna spoke with a warm confidence about a college she helped to start for people with disabilities that, perhaps to most people, would seem to prevent them from going to traditional colleges.

We’d met a lot of people representing a range of various charities and causes, but there were two things very compelling about DeAnna’s cause. First, she had a grand vision for what was, at that time, a little-known project. We didn’t know how this vision would be fulfilled, but DeAnna’s faith in the cause was both evident and unflinching. Secondly, we were intrigued by DeAnna’s perspective: whereas some people might politely smile but expect no societal contribution from the individuals served by the College, she puts no limit on the value of their potential.

To the outside observer, CAA’s students appear to have intellectual and/or physical disabilities. But peruse the College’s website, read their marketing materials, or listen to one of the faculty or volunteers, and you won’t get much information about disabilities at all.

You are, however, almost sure to hear the term “differing abilities.” It’s almost as if “disability” doesn’t actually exist - only different levels of ability. Sure, people with conditions like Down syndrome may not develop the same set of skills as people without them. But everyone has gifts and abilities on some level. CAA doesn’t tell us what those abilities are or should be. They simply help their students explore and expand their abilities through various paths.

As a result, anyone who's ever heard a CAA student speak at one of their events has probably noticed they exude self-confidence, and have a great deal of camaraderie and a sense of community with their classmates and their families.

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By Danielle Weaver

Denae ProsserWhy choose CAA? Because it changes lives. Simple as that. My sister Denae, born with a development disability, spent her whole life wanting to be like her older sister and brother. She stood quietly watching her sister do plays, her brother excel at water polo and waited. She cheered them on as they graduated from high school. When her time came to walk across that stage she was thrilled.  She cheered as they graduated from community college and with their bachelors. But a realization came to her. She might never be able to go to college and graduate.

That’s where CAA comes into play. In 2010, I helped her fill out her application for College of Adaptive Arts. One thing she wanted. She wanted to graduate from college and get a degree. Denae started taking classes and I was fortunate to sit in on one of the performance classes. The curriculum was not watered down but things that I had learned in one of the few theatre college classes I took. But beyond that the professors did not talk down to the students but treated them like adults. I was impressed.

Denae always loved to draw. She would fall asleep with the old Magna doodle toy. She started taking art classes at CAA. Her art suddenly became alive. Bright colors, defined technique and beautiful pictures. It was very Denae.  She had the freedom to express herself and a new found pride in her work. From dragons to wolves, her art exploded. Denae gained a new found pride in her ability.

In 2014 Denae walked across the stage at the College of Adaptive Arts spring graduation ceremony. She had completed 120 units of college courses. Mostly art classes. At that moment Denae had achieved her one goal. She had graduated from college. The pride she gain was unspeakable. The techniques she learned were real and Denae was an artist.  Denae also had something my brother and I couldn’t claim. She was able to display her art work at the De Young museum.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_performance.jpg

The past two winters in San Jose haven't produced much precipitation, but inspiration has been raining on me. Little did I know when I opened the San Jose Mercury News that chilly December morning, I would read an article that would change my life. The feature told the story of this remarkable institution of higher education called the College of Adaptive Arts and how it was giving adults with varying disabilities the opportunity to perform, create, sing and dance.

As I read the story, I felt a tangible tug on my heart and a voice almost audibly whispered in my ear, "you need to direct a musical for them." Eagerly, I found the contact information embedded in the piece and contacted Pam and DeAnna. Our first-ever meeting at the Cup and Saucer Restaurant was more like a reunion! Three old friends who had never met before. It was magical! It was like I had known these women all my life as we talked and cried and planned and talked and planned and cried some more. I honestly felt that God has sent me to work with this college, and that's what I set out to do.

We planned our first summer show, Footloose, and set the wheels in motion to make it happen. I picked the songs, acquired a choreographer and secured the b2ap3_thumbnail_performance2.jpgperformance space at Pioneer High School. As rehearsals began at the CAA campus, I was overwhelmed by the energy, love and dedication of the the CAA actors, dancers and singers. I remember Amber, our choreo, coming to me on that first day saying she was out of material to teach. I asked her why, and she said she had only planned on doing one number the first day, and that the cast had learned it in 20 minutes instead of the 90 she had in mind! So, she improvised and taught the students two more songs.

The energy and excitement of opening night was palpable and the show was an over-the-moon, sensational hit; but something that happened midway through the rehearsal schedule convinced me I had finally found a home for my talents. A young, wheelchair-bound actor had impressed me during rehearsals with her energy, enthusiasm and drive. But, on this day, she wasn't there her usual 15 minutes early. As I was preparing for the day's work, I looked up to see her literally crawling towards me on the floor, pulling herself with just her arms. I called her name and said "what's wrong?" She looked up and me, smiled and simply said..."the elevator is broken and NOTHING is going to keep me from rehearsal!"

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