“You Are Not Alone” is both a class and a promise at the College of Adaptive Arts (CAA) for adults with special needs. The students are not alone as they fulfill dreams of attending and graduating from college—dreams once impossible for many who don’t fit the traditional student mold.
“Teaching at the College of Adaptive Arts has expanded my experience of what’s possible for differently-abled people—or even for normally-abled people. We are all different,” said Khalilah Ramirez, who heads the School of Dance. “Everything I’ve learned from the students has shattered my expectations of what’s possible.”
The “You Are Not Alone” student check-in class was initiated by CAA student Brighid. She discovered an organization that told orphans and abandoned or bullied youth, “You are not alone.”
Seeking approval for such an affirming class at CAA, Brighid created and gave a PowerPoint presentation to the CAA Board of Directors. She is now an Associate Professor of Instruction of the hybrid (in-person and online) class, which includes out-of-state students.
“We’ve discovered that through our programs, we can train and actually hire from our pool of students for positions such as Associate Professor and Teacher’s Aids,” said CAA Executive Director and co-founder DeAnna Pursai, named a CNN Hero in 2022. “It opens up a new world to what is possible.”
Some once may have thought the College of Adaptive Arts an impossible dream. It began in a dance studio in San Jose. Nobody showed up for the first class.
That was back in 2009. Friends DeAnna Pursai and Dr. Pamela Lindsay, then special education teachers, had just dared to dream of post-secondary education for special needs people aged 22 and over, the cut-off age for learning accommodations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Now, fourteen years later, the nonprofit CAA is housed on the campus of West Valley College in Saratoga and enrolls nearly 200 students. It fills 850 class seats per quarter, with students taking classes in ten schools of instruction. Expanding beyond the initial arts and music focus, classes include business, science and technology, communications and library arts.
The college’s vision is to be a Special Olympics-type model for life-long education. In 2022, it launched a Global Council on Special Adult Education and Lifelong Learning (CAA SAELL) to collaborate and introduce its model of expanded college education to campuses of higher learning nation and worldwide.
“We want to be a think tank for others. We want to connect, collaborate, and share resources,” said Dr. Lindsay, who developed the educational model for CAA classes.
CAA is “moving the mountain” to bridge the gap between its current annual budget of $1,350,000 and the $2 million needed for ongoing fiscal sustainability.
CAA student Saida, 26, takes public transportation from Oakland to West Valley College, transferring twice. She leaves home before 8 a.m. to be on time for a 10:30 a.m. class.
“It [CAA] helped me become a strong woman in life. I’m a more open-minded and resilient person in this world with my disabilities. It helped me be more independent and find my voice and be more free from my limitations,” said Saida.
“The school made a huge impact on me in so many ways,” continued Saida. “I can continue here as long as I want. It’s life-long learning.”
CAA’s oldest student is in his mid-70s.
For information, visit CAA online at collegeofadaptivearts.org. You can volunteer to support and advocate for CAA or schedule an online or in-person tour, as State Senator Dave Cortese did last December.
Thank you for this wonderful spotlight on the fabulous CAA!
What a great organization!! I support them and their mission!!
Thank you so much for capturing the essence and spirit of College of Adaptive Arts, Diane! It was so nice having you visit the You Are Not Alone class for the entire hour – the students were so hungry and eager to share with you how much they want and can contribute to the community. The Mountain continues to be nudged to provide more lifelong, equitable collegiate opportunities for adults who historically have not had access thanks to such wonderful showcase pieces such as this. College of Adaptive Arts is grateful to the ever-growing community of supporters!! 🙂
What a wonderful story showcasing the power of inclusivity and lifelong learning! CAA is such an inspiring organization and it is truly changing the lives of so many. Thank you for shining a light on their important work!
What a wonderful article about this innovating and life changing organization! I fully support CAA of all they do!
Thank you Diane for sitting in with the YANA Class and writing a wonderful article about the YANA Class and CAA. Your support is greatly appreciated!
CAA made College a reality for our daughter. Despite Zooming in from Virginia, the YANA Class has helped her feel more confident in talking with others and understanding that she truly is not alone.
We are blessed to be climbing the lifelong learning Mountain with CAA Staff and Students!
Absolutely love CAA and the impact they have on the community! Amazing program.
I am so thrilled that more people will now know about the life changing opportunities available for individuals who may have let other’s expectations of them limit their potential. CAA understands and strives to remove those limits. Thank you for showcasing this amazing program.
Thank you so much, DeAnna and team, for inviting my middle school students in to visit and participate in the “You Are Not Alone” class. My students were amazed and very much enjoyed their visit with your inspiring students! There should be schools like yours across the nation, and while we are at it, the world! Many thanks for helping to open my student’s eyes and raising awareness for those with disabilities.
There are so many opportunities for students, parents, caregivers, faculty, staff, and community members to engage in this unique collegiate experience. Thank you, Silicon Valley Voice, for shining the spotlight on the College of Adaptive Arts (CAA) at West Valley College.
Thank you so much for all the love and support you have given to CAA I am honored to have been able to share with you my story about the huge impact CAA Have had on me and so much more etc
CAA is a huge one of a kind special school I am thankful, grateful and forever honored to be a student at this school
I couldn’t ask for anything better
Thank you, Diane, for this absolutely beautiful and most important illumination of the work of the College of Adaptive Arts, and the students’ amazing abilities to affect change within their pioneering programs. We so appreciate your time and efforts to meet them and listen to their voices, and those of their passionate supporters. Together we’re moving that mountain for higher education opportunities available everywhere, and in every way, for students of all abilities with a deep desire to continue their learning journeys throughout life and increase their contributions to their communities. Go Cardinals!!!
We love this program and their philosophy of lifelong learning.