Takes Different Path to University
by Desiree Cooper, Detroit Free Press, March 30, 2004
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Janice Fialka warns that a child's high school graduation can be
bittersweet, but especially so for the parents of
developmentally disabled children. Fialka should know: Her son,
19-year-old Micah Fialka-Feldman, is a special education
student. As his graduation drew near last year, it felt more
like a dead end than an open road.
"Eighty percent of people with disabilities are unemployed,"
said Rich Feldman, Fialka's husband and Micah's father. "There's
not a view of them having a place in our society."
From birth, Micah had developmental delays, including difficulty
responding to voices and displaying certain emotions. In the
first grade, Micah declared that he wanted to use the same door
as everyone else. Since then, his parents have championed
inclusion. Micah eventually lettered in cross-country and was on
Berkley High School's homecoming court. "Kids like Micah have a
better chance if they're included," Fialka said. "It's a social
In Michigan, children can be special education students until
they are 26 years old or attain a high school diploma, whichever
comes first. For some, that means attending community-based,
post-high school programs. But for Micah, that wasn't enough.
"My dream was to go to college," said Micah, this year's winner
of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children's "Yes I Can!"
Award. "Two days after my 19th birthday, I started going to
Oakland University. My dream came true."
Welcome to campus
Micah is one of only four students in the OU Transitions
Program. That's a pilot program that allows special education
students to be "guests" of the university in order to continue
with their learning goals, which may include independent living
and job skills training in addition to academic goals.
"There aren't many other programs like this," said Bob Wiggins,
the associate dean of OU's School of Education and Human
Services and one of the program administrators. "I've been told
that this is a minor miracle, but it shouldn't be. This is what
college is all about."
Instrumental in cobbling the program together was Micah's
Berkley High counselor, Sharon Berke, and Rebecca Craig,
assistant director of special education for Rochester Community
Schools. Technically, Micah is still a public school student who
is carrying out his educational plan on a college campus. The
Berkley School District pays his tuition for the program, which
will accommodate 10 students next year.
Fixing the world
Now in his second semester, Micah has learned how to take the
bus from his Berkley home to the Rochester campus. He audits
three classes, volunteers for a campus child care center and has
joined the social work club and Hillel, a Jewish organization.
His favorite class is social issues because, "It's about how to
fix the world." He wants to get involved in politics, so he can
advocate on behalf of those with learning differences. One of
his prized possessions is his college ID.
"Their egos and sense of capacity just explode when they're
included with other students," Fialka said. "You can just see it
in his smile: 'I'm not a special ed student, I'm a college
The Transitions Program is open to Oakland County students. To
find out more, contact the special education department in your
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