Seventy years after the inception of Mary Cariola Children’s Center, the mission remains the same: To identify critical community issues surrounding education and finding ways to solve them.
The Mary Cariola team is committed to being an active community partner to drive forward free and appropriate education for every child with a disability, a piece of federal legislation passed in 1975 known as Public Law 94-142.
“Mary Cariola had a nephew who had multiple disabilities. At the time she was told he couldn’t go to school,” explains Christine Sheffer, superintendent of schools at Mary Cariola. “She didn’t think that was equitable, so she started a school for him.”
From an education standpoint, one of the goals at Mary Cariola is to provide support so that as many preschoolers as possible can return to a less restrictive educational environment in their home district when they become school-age.
Mary Cariola’s preschool works with young children ages 3 to 5 who are disabled or multiply disabled and meet the profile for an intense academic and behavior support program. Currently, 50 percent of preschoolers leave Mary Cariola prepared to go on to learn in a less restrictive environment.
“That number feels exactly right. That number is well-balanced in kids who continue to need to stay with us because they need maximum level of support, and kids who have gained the skills to go on to a less restrictive environment,” says Sheffer. “The goal is always to have as many kids leave as possible and to make sure that the districts who are receiving them back feel confident and prepared to take care of them.”
Mary Cariola currently serves children from 53 school districts in 11 counties. Physically located in Rochester, students are bused in from as far east as Syracuse and as far west as Lewiston.
In an effort to optimize support for Mary Cariola staff and members of the districts they serve, Cariola Collaborative was created.
“Over the last few years we’ve gotten a lot of requests from the community to provide different trainings or to provide different support to students within school districts,” says Erin DiCesare, director of learning & organizational development at Mary Cariola. “The collaborative is our initiative to provide additional trainings and consultations to school districts and different community partners.”
DiCesare adds that the goal of the collaborative is to partner with and support community members who are serving individuals with complex needs so that young people with disabilities receive the highest quality education and care.
Mary Cariola has already seen success with the collaborative.
“One event that comes to mind is when we brought national experts in music therapy to Rochester last spring,” says Sheffer. “Music therapists from Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester were able to join in that training. That’s something that would’ve been cost prohibitive to do with just a small number of people. But we were able to increase the skill level of lots of music therapists in the region.”
Internally, Mary Cariola staff is also supported with professional development and educational opportunities through the collaborative. Mary Cariola provides continuing education credit, which allows people to receive high quality trainings in their home community to keep their certifications and licenses without having to leave Rochester.
“The key to the collaborative is that it provides interdisciplinary training, so we try to meet the needs of all the different disciplines we serve here,” says DiCesare. “Our hope for the collaborative is that we’re a community partner for the Rochester area, and as our community members are serving individuals with complex needs that they can reach out to us as a resource and we can provide that training or consultation to them based on our experience over the years.”
In addition to collaborating with districts and internal staff, Mary Cariola also partners with UR Medicine’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s SMILEmobile for dental care for young people with disabilities, as well as UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute and UR Medicine’s Strong Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Young people with disabilities come to Mary Cariola with a personal IEP (Individualized Education Program), and Mary Cariola is able to exceed the plans through these collaborations.
New to Mary Cariola are the Cariola Classrooms at Golisano Autism Center, which just opened in September. Mary Cariola rents four classroom spaces and partners with a variety of providers to provide quality education services for young people with autism. All of the staff at Cariola Classrooms at Golisano Autism Center are Mary Cariola employees, including the speech therapist, behavior therapist and principal.
This initiative is another shining example of Mary Cariola seeing a need in the community and taking strides to fill the void.
“We’re excited to be part of this collaborative because it allows us to provide an expansion of our current program, where we always have students on a waiting list to get in,” says Sheffer. “More specifically, this is an expansion that allows us to work directly with some kids who we hope will move to a less restrictive environment back in their community schools.”
Nsheldon@bridgetowermedia.com / (585) 363-7031