Global Campuses Students: Three Stories of Building Pride, Confidence and Community
Ashley Dow, right, kisses her mother Sylvia Dow, left, before stepping in front of her Global Campuses classmates to teach about the history of her family home in Enfield, N.H., Thursday, December 19, 2013. Dow's grandparents bought the farm in 1953 and ran as an inn. Sylvia Dow has now made it a home for several young women with disabilities.
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Kim Wolk, of Enfield, left, takes the dice from Global Campuses Academic Coordinator Donna Stepien, right, during Yahtzee club at the Kilton Library in West Lebaon, Thursday, November 21, 2013. Wolk said she started playing the game at a young age with her family on holidays and is passing on her enjoyment of the game to her Global Campuses classmates. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
After reading his acrostic poem composed during a Global Campuses poetry class, Pat Green, left, gets applause from his classmates in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, November 12, 2013. Patrick taught three classes this term for Global Campuses Shiremont - one on the computer game Runescape, another on metal detecting, and a third on Sylvester the Cat.
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Lebanon — From jewelry-making to pet care to online games, Global Campuses Foundation classes, taught by people with special needs, cover a lot of ground. Shiremont, the newest Global Campuses site, serves adults in the Upper Valley. As at all of the foundation’s 16 campuses, Shiremont’s curriculum is designed by students.
Over the past several months, the Valley News talked with participants about the program and visited their classes and homes. Here are some of their stories:
Ashley Dow ‘I Feel Proud of Myself’
On a recent afternoon, Ashley Dow, 29, introduced a roomful of people to each other, gave a history lecture, and led a tour of the former inn she shares with her parents, sister Emma, and a classmate. She wasn’t always so comfortable speaking in front of people.
“When Ashley started, it was hard,” said her mother, Sylvia. But teaching classes through Shiremont has bumped up her daughter’s confidence and public speaking skills. The retired special educator, whose adult daughters both take part in Shiremont, said she’s seen their classmates grow as well. “I just get blown away” by how they research their topics, practice teaching and learn the materials, she said.
Ashley Dow’s talk about Sunset Farm in Enfield last month was a chance to learn more about the place she’s lived all her life, and to hone the classroom management skills she’s been developing over the past few years. Classes are generally held at Lebanon College, local libraries and businesses, but Dow’s presentation was set in the rustic kitchen that once turned out three meals a day for as many as 47 guests.
One by one, her friends and students arrived, some with aides and mentors, and gathered around the kitchen table. On the counter sat old photo albums from the days when visitors, mostly Europeans, would stay for weeks or months at a time. To set the stage, Dow had set out plates of German baked goods and donned a red and blue dirndl that once belonged to her grandmother. Waitresses at the inn had worn similar dresses as they served the inn’s beloved German pancakes.
Dow had tracked down the farm’s history with the help of her mother, a mentor and the Enfield Historical Society. Using a poster she’d created for reference, she described the property’s evolution. The owners started taking guests in the 1920s, while it was still a working farm. In 1953, Dow’s grandparents, German immigrants John and Erna Kluge, bought the place and turned it into an inn. They later added a four-unit hotel, which is now home to two of Ashley’s classmates. Dow pointed out the original wooden beams in the 19th century building, which was later expanded.
Before that, “the farmhouse ended right here,” she said, gesturing to a kitchen wall. She had just started describing a time when part of the house collapsed under snow, when someone asked which section of the roof had been affected.
Dow finished what she what she was saying before answering.
“Everyone knows Ashley doesn’t like to be rushed,” said Quinn Miller, a Shiremont student, and her classmates laughed.
“You know me well,” Dow said, smiling.
After the Kluges died, Dow’s parents and uncle ran the place as an inn and later a bed and breakfast. Her mother prompted her to describe what it was like to stay in the inn, and Dow recalled serving guests in the busy dining room. She pointed out the wooden window where they handed food into the dining room and said the record number of pancakes eaten by a guest was eight. In 1997, her family moved into the farmhouse and stopped running the business, “which was kind of sad.”
Dow’s teaching model is her mother, who leads the Art Lab program at AVA, along with various continuing education courses through the Special Needs Support Center in Lebanon. Dow especially likes the way her mom interacts with students.
During her class, Dow held up a brochure from the business and described the nearby beachhouse where guests could swim. “Does everybody know where Mascoma Lake is?” she asked, and most people raised their hands.
Later, someone asked about a date missing from the timeline. Her mom wasn’t sure about the year, Dow explained.
“Way to go, Sylvia,” a student teased, and Dow gently chided her. “Be nice to my mom, please.”
When she finished her talk, Dow hugged her mother. The audience clapped and then lingered to chat and eat stollen in the centuries-old house that will soon be transformed once again.
Sylvia and David Dow are working to convert the property to a nonprofit residence for their daughters and other people with special needs. The idea came about a few years ago, when Sylvia Dow became sick with a brain infection.
The illness highlighted a concern shared by many parents of children with special needs, she said. “If not for me, where would my children live?”
Eventually she and her husband will move out and the site will be “totally staffed” and offer programs and support, she said. “The people who live here, their lives will not be disrupted.”
Ashley Dow, who has Down syndrome, graduated from Mascoma Valley Regional High School in 2003 and attended the Regional Resource Center at Hartford, which teaches life and job skills. She works part time in Collis Cafe at Dartmouth College cleaning tables and stocking supplies. When she’s not working, she spends time with friends and takes part in all sorts of hobbies — exercising, scrapbooking and boating with her family. She and her classmates sell flowers and jewelry at the Lebanon Farmers Market and go to “happenings” — social events — through the Special Needs Support Center.
She sometimes travels by bus and likes to shop at Kohl’s in West Lebanon. If no one’s around, she’ll go alone, but she prefers shopping with a friend. “Sometimes I get very lonely,” she said.
Her mom keeps track of her schedule, and once or twice a week she works with Lisa Morcom, her mentor. On a recent morning, Dow and her sister were getting ready to go to the gym with Morcom. Dow said she likes riding in the car with Morcom because they listen to music, and then put her arm around her. “I have a disability, but it doesn’t matter. We’re still friends.”
Shiremont gives Dow a chance to teach what she wants to teach and socialize with friends, she said. She and her classmates encourage each other along the way.
After Dow’s class, Carla DeLuca, who also lives in the farmhouse, complimented her teaching.
“After a few minutes, you just relaxed,” said DeLuca, who takes classes at Lebanon College and has also taught at Shiremont. “You waited for people to finish (talking) before you got started. That was really fun to see.”
“I was nervous,” Dow said.
But it didn’t show, Sylvia Dow said, and DeLuca agreed.
Dow has taught by herself and with classmates. “It’s less stressful when you work together,” she said.
Her courses have covered jewelry making, marine biology and the hunting habits of lions.
“It’s fun. I learn a lot,” she said. “I feel proud of myself because I know I can do it.”
Kimberley Wolk ‘A Way to Be With My Knowledge’
Laughter and the sound of dice rattling in a plastic cup jumbled together during a recent class at Kilton Library in Lebanon. Kimberley Wolk, 37, was full of encouragement for the students in her Yahtzee class. Donna Stepien, an academic coordinator with Global Campuses Foundation, was among a dozen or so people taking turns at the game.
“Oh, she got it!” Wolk said when Stepien rolled a full house. Her enthusiasm spread, and student Patrick Green broke into applause.
When it was Green’s turn, Wolk watched the dice come to rest on the wooden table. “Large straight on the first roll,” she said. “I love it when that happens.”
Wolk’s no stranger to post-secondary education — she holds an associate degree in veterinary technology, but for her, Shiremont is more than just a school.
“At Global Campuses, I’m not just a student,” the Enfield resident said. “I’m family. I’m a core group leader, a charter member.”
The leadership role seems natural for Wolk, who serves on the nonprofit’s board. She’s working with her colleagues to spread the word about Shiremont and plays a big part in organizing events. “I try to rally my troops,” she said.
Wolk, who has a learning disability, “always had trouble writing essays and papers,” she said. “There is something with my thought processes.”
A Long Island native, she attended a private school for people with special needs and graduated at the top of her class. After high school, she completed a program for students with special needs at New York Institute of Technology. Through the program, which focuses on academics, independent living, social skills and job training, Wolk realized she wanted to work with animals. She went on to earn her associate degree from LaGuardia Community College. After passing the national exam, she worked in the animal care field for several years, including in an emergency veterinary hospital. Recently, she recalled trying to stay awake while commuting in Long Island’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. “I’ve had my adventures,” she said.
After her father died in 2006, she and her mother moved to New Hampshire. “It’s been good and bad,” Wolk said.
She found a job in a veterinary clinic but the work was overwhelming, and it didn’t pan out. And recently, her living situation became difficult. She was living alone, for the first time, in a two-bedroom townhouse in White River Junction. She liked having her own space, but it had its downsides. She struggled to maintain the townhouse, which her mother, Karen Wolk, owns. When Kimberley became overloaded, her mother would come by to help organize her clothes and do the dishes.
And she was lonely. In New York, Wolk and her friends spent the weekends together, watching movies, eating out and going to the mall. But the Upper Valley is more spread out, and “social connections weren’t easy to come by,” she said. “Being alone is not healthy for anyone. There’s a big difference between solitude and solitary.”
Then, her mother read about Global Campuses, which has made a big difference in her life. “It’s given me community and friendships … so it’s important to me,” she said.
Through Shiremont, she also found a living situation that better suited her. Several of her classmates, including Ashley and Emma Dow, live at Sunrise Farm in Enfield. The former bed and breakfast is owned by the women’s parents, Sylvia and David Dow. In December, Wolk moved into an efficiency apartment on the property. One of the few students who drive, she commutes to Global Campus classes and to her job washing dishes at the Quechee Club in her tan 2001 Chevy Malibu. “It still rolls,” she said.
With so many friends nearby, her new place is a bit like a college dorm, she said. “We all do dinners and hang out together and have movie nights.”
Her place has a small kitchen and just enough room for her bed, desk and chair. It’s a lot easier to take care of, and she’s no longer lonely. She has friends nearby and her own space if she wants alone time. Her neighbor’s tabby cat, Autumn, wanders in and out of her apartment and has become “frenemies” with her dog, Wolk said, laughing. Linus, a beagle mix, stays with her mother but sometimes come for a visit in Enfield. “We kind of call it joint custody.”
She likes the “cabin coziness,” with its view of the woods through the back window. The paneled walls are decorated with patterned tapestries and her college certificates. She and her family smile in a photo from her sister Jessica Wolk-Benson’s wedding. Her mineral collection sits on her bureau, and her bookcase is full of science fiction and textbooks from her days at LaGuardia Community College. She’d like to work with animals again, but in the meantime, teaching has let her share what she learned “in a less complicated way.”
Wolk has been teaching at Shiremont since it began three years ago. She has co-taught classes, including an ocean biology class she led with Ashley Dow, and also on her own. “From Woof to Wag” covered the history of dogs. Her favorite so far was a seven-week course on anatomy and physiology, in which students dissected a fetal pig.
“It’s a way to be with my knowledge again,” she said.
Teaching has improved her organization and preparation skills, and she’s become more comfortable speaking in front of a group. “That was really hard for me,” she said.
It’s also taught her to be patient, tolerant and validating.
“No matter what they say, even if it’s on topic just a little bit,” she affirms people who speak up in class, she said. “It’s important for students to be validated.”
Karen Wolk calls Shiremont a “socially safe” and empowering place. One previously withdrawn young man now “smiles at you and looks you in the eye,” she said. And her daughter amazed her with a presentation summarizing her class.
“Organizing material is not her strength. That’s her neurological issue, in part,” she said. “She had cards and notes. It was logical, and she did it. I had never seen anything like that before.”
Wolk’s proud of her role with Shiremont. She wore her navy blue Global Campuses T-shirt to the Yahtzee class, which she created for sentimental reasons. While she was growing up, her family’s Thanksgiving ritual included playing the dice game “in a nice cozy corner” of her grandmother’s living room. It’s caught on at Shiremont and may continue there as a club. Toward the end of the game in Kilton Library, each student had just a few categories left to fill. Green needed sixes, but his first roll yielded none. Wolk coached him to re-roll the entire handful of dice.
“It’s risky, but go for it,” she said.
Patrick Green ‘Like a Real College Student’
Patrick Green worked hard to earn his high school diploma from Lebanon High School, and he wanted to go to away to college like his sister. But that wasn’t in the cards.
Because of grades and other issues, Green, 22, who has autism and epilepsy, was not accepted. His mother, Lisa Green, said most colleges require students to submit SAT scores and complete certain classes, “and someone with special needs is not able to (meet) all those” criteria.
“We tried, but they don’t offer aides or support to the extent that Patrick would need,” she said in an interview in the Lebanon home she shares with her partner, Bob Michenfelder, and her son.
But in 2010, just months after graduating from high school, Green heard Jim Tewksbury, a Randolph resident and founder of Global Campuses, speak about would become the Upper Valley site. Who in the audience might like to teach a class? Tewksbury asked, and Green’s hand shot up.
What could he teach? Tewksbury wanted to know.
“Guitar,” said Green, a music lover.
Shiremont opened in 2011, and Green became involved soon after. It’s a good fit.
“I like how the students get to be the teachers,” Green said. “I like the fact that you can organize (your class) any way you want it. I like the staff and my friends there. I’ve learned so much from my friends and from this organization.”
During a recent interview, Green showed off his Global Campuses identification card.
“He loves his ID,” said Lisa Green, who serves on the Global Campuses Foundation board. “It makes him feel like a real college student.”
He’s tall and slim, has short brown hair, and chooses his words carefully. He loves to read — especially the Sweet Pickles series of children’s books — play guitar and sing. He recently made his stage debut as an adult, performing in a Zack’s Place production in Woodstock.
His days are full, and he spends them with his mentor, Sam Kroian, and respite worker, Marisa H. Smith. Green doesn’t drive, so Smith and Kroian get him where he needs to go.
That includes his volunteer jobs at Listen Thrift Shop in Lebanon, the Upper Valley Senior Center and Hanover Street School, along with the gym, classes and errands. They also help him stay “on task and on schedule, because he needs that assistance,” Lisa Green said.
For the Greens, Shiremont provides vital opportunities. Green and his classmates do community service together and share a special understanding of one another. “They really get, understand what my world is like, and they know what their world is like, so it’s nice,” Green said.
And they get his jokes.
“I am rather funny,” he said.
Lisa Green said Shiremont came along right on time. “When a person with special needs finishes high school, all their lives they’ve had assistance, and all the sudden, you become an adult and you’re on your own,” and often isolated, she said. “Global Campuses caught Patrick and his friends right out of high school, so they were able to continue that involvement that the high school had provided. … Patrick has a good life because of Global Campuses.”
Green has taught a class about the Disney film 101 Dalmatians and also led a course on RuneScape, an online role-playing game. “As soon as I taught that, (the other students) wanted to play it, too,” he said.
Another class, which he taught wearing a skunk costume, focused on his favorite cartoon character, Pepe Le Pew. “I think he is one of the most-loved Looney Tunes characters,” he said, smiling. “I like that he’s so crazy in love that he chases that poor cat around.”
Like most of his classmates, this is Green’s first teaching experience, and one he’s very proud of. His bedroom walls are papered with certificates for the classes he’s taught, along with his freehand pencil drawings of the smelly, smitten skunk and his reluctant feline paramour, Penelope. The drawings, created for the class, look much like the original characters.
“We learned in that process how good of an artist Patrick is. He’s really amazingly good,” Lisa Green said. It’s just one example of how he’s grown since becoming involved with Global Campuses. “He’s a great public speaker now and knows how to use PowerPoint and has made so many new friends,” she said. And his leadership skills have “blossomed.”
“I’ve noticed Patrick and his friends, they feel more confident and professional enough to tackle the challenges in the world a little bit better,” she said.
Last fall, Green led a class on metal detectors at Lebanon College, where he held up the metal detector he uses, often on family vacations. The electronic instrument “helps you find treasures and lost items … above and below ground,” he told the class of about 10 students. “They are really remarkable instruments.”
They beep when they sense metal, even just traces of it in rocks and minerals. He went over what they might find — coins, jewelry, aluminum cans — and gave some history on the instruments. Then, it was time to try out the device. In a group, the class walked a few blocks away to the Northern Rail Trail, where they stood and talked in small groups before taking turns scanning the ground. The metal detector beeped now and again, but when Green scraped the ground with a stick, he turned over nothing but dirt.
“I’m thinking it’s just the rocks,” said Kimberley Wolk, after her turn.
It isn’t uncommon for them to find nothing. One day they dug down a foot only to find an old Coke can, Kroian said, and he and Green grin at the memory.
When everyone who wants a turn has had one, the students head back to Lebanon College, laughing and joking, bundled against the cool fall air.
Aimee Caruso can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3210.