ABILITY at Bridgeway Academy
February 23, 2017
On Thursday, February 9, 2017, Bridgeway Academy hosted its very first after-school dance, due in large part to the hard work of ten young female students and four women community mentors, all who participate in the program, “ABILITY.”
Thanks to the generosity of our funding partner, Huntington, Bridgeway Academy was able to spend some dedicated time with these ten girls, grades 4 – 10, working on social, communication and daily living skills – skills they will need as they transition into adulthood. “ABILITY,” included a mentorship program that connected the girls with professional women from the community. Four women mentors agreed to be a part of the program and worked with the girls once a month to conceive of, plan and implement the school dance, themed “Winter Wonderland.” In these last few weeks before the dance, the girls and their mentors shopped for decorations, prepared refreshments and designed and sent invitations to their classmates.
In addition to the mentorship program, the girls participated in a variety of vocational and daily skill building sessions, including identifying and applying methods of payment such as debit/credit cards, cash, gift cards and check writing. Other areas of instruction included budgeting, social and communication skills. The girls put all of these lessons to work in real life as they have planned their dance, “Winter Wonderland.” The program was implemented by Bridgeway Academy’s Community Resource Consultant, Tiffany Landefeld-Mostafa who states about the program, “The financial literacy lessons made an impact on the girls. They had fun, were eager to see each other and to work as a team on group activities. The group bonded, empowered each other and demonstrated respect for one another. I look forward to future opportunities for these girls to continue to meet and participate while developing independence and self-advocacy.”
All of the hard work came together on February 9th, when thirty-five (35) Bridgeway Academy students remained after school to participate in “Winter Wonderland.” The girls and their mentors spent the afternoon decorating the gym, laying out refreshments and preparing for the dance. A former Bridgeway Academy student returned to be the dance DJ and Bridgeway Academy’s teaching and therapy staff watched in proud amazement as their students danced, sang and engaged with each other in this social setting. Erin Nealy, Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director of Bridgeway Academy states, “What a joy it was to see female students plan and produce our first dance, and then watch all of the students enjoy their time together, some who have been with us since elementary school. It was a proud moment for all of us at Bridgeway Academy.”
Sheri Weithman, Director of Field Development-Columbus, OH for Autism Speaks and program mentor, states about this opportunity, “I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see first-hand what our service providers, teachers and teens on the spectrum face every day. It has opened my eyes to how hard these teens work to develop the skills necessary to contribute in today’s society. I am beyond impressed with the dedication, passion and professionalism of the staff at Bridgeway Academy and I hope that my participation had a positive impact on these amazing young women.”
According to the Autism Society, 3.5+ million Americans live with autism and nationally, 35% of young adults with autism have hot had a job or received any education after learning high school. In June 2014, only 16.8% of the population with disabilities was employed. Further, a report in the Equity Resource Center’s Gender & Disability Digest reports, “Women and girls with disabilities … are subjected to double discrimination: sexism as well as disability bias … women with disabilities are significantly poorer than men and women without disabilities: they are more likely to be unemployed and if employed, receive lower wages than men with disabilities.” Bridgeway Academy is working hard to ensure a positive and productive future for all of its students and is grateful to Huntington for its support of this program.