A once shy and quiet 20-year old student, Emily Brushafer can be described as an ambassador for the LIVES Program. The Learn Independence, Vocational and Educational Skills (LIVES) Program is a transition program located on the campus of the State University of New York – College at Geneseo in collaboration with the Genesee Valley BOCES. Students, ages 18-21, with intellectual and/or other developmental disabilities, are provided with an inclusive educational community. The goal is to create independent lifelong learners who are connected to their community in a variety of ways.
John Schnitter is the Special Education teacher who teaches the LIVES Program students. He describes Emily.
“When Emily first started the LIVES Program, it could be challenging for her to engage in conversation with her peers. Over the past three years, she has improved her communication skills to the point where she will join in and initiate conversations with others. She is concerned for the well-being of others and will always ask others how they're doing,” Schnitter said.
Due to the pandemic, the LIVES Program was taught remotely from March until June 2020. For the 2020-21 school year, the Program was not held on the campus of SUNY Geneseo but located on the Genesee Community College Campus in Dansville, New York.
According to Emily, remote learning has its challenges and advantages.
“I miss my friends when I’m on remote learning but yet, I like being home.”
But most of all she loves being a student in the LIVES Program. “We learn, math, science and English and one of my favorites, is Independent Learning, where we learn how to shop at a grocery store and how to do a budget so I can pay my bills,” Emily explained.
As part of the LIVES Program, student audit SUNY Geneseo college courses. This past year, Emily’s favorites were American Sign Language, Creative Writing, Physical Geography. Schnitter describes Emily’s love of literature.
“Emily works hard to do her best in all her classes. She loves to write, and the practice she has put in has paid off. Last year, Emily audited a SUNY Geneseo Creative Writing course that helped build her confidence in her abilities. This year, Emily audited a geography course that was entirely virtual,” Schnitter said. “She eagerly participated in the Zoom sessions and was able to complete her assignments independently, performing very well overall in a challenging class.”
Emily is currently using some of what she learned in her Creative Writing class to write a fiction book. Some of her classmates and even teachers are included as characters.
“Ms. Wolcott is a dragon in my book,” Emily said with a laugh. “We all have a role in her book,” added Marcy Wolcott, the LIVES Teaching Assistant said.
“Emily loves discussing books that she's read as well as the movies and TV shows that she's watched. Science fiction and fantasy are her favorites. She's even tried her hand at writing her own stories, featuring her teachers and classmates in a variety of different roles,” Schnitter said.
Emily’s success in the classroom extends into her personal life. Swimming is more than a sport for Emily; it’s her passion and a sport that her family enjoys together. She’s been a member of the Dansville Central Schools swim team, and most importantly, she’s been participating in Special Olympics swimming since she was six of seven. Her uncle has coached her. She is a Special Olympic swimming champion and has many prized medals. She swims a few different competitive events, the 50-yard freestyle and the 50-yard breast stroke. The breast stroke is often described as the frog stroke because of the arm and leg movements and it is the slowest of all the swimming strokes. But not for Emily.
Mary Wolcott-Hatch is the Teaching Assistant for the LIVES Program.
“Emily is a fantastic swimmer!,” Wolcott-Hatch said. “I had expectations that she was pretty good because I knew that she had won medals but when I saw her swim, I was amazed.”
Emily will graduate in May 2021. She has set goals, and she hopes to live independently by herself in the Dansville area. She is hired and set to begin work at Noyes Hospital in the kitchen after graduation.
Schnitter summed up Emily’s contributions as a LIVES student.
“Emily has proudly represented the LIVES Program each year at our Open House events for prospective students, families, and community members. She has become a very confident public speaker and is eager to share what the LIVES Program is all about. I know that I can count on her to make a good impression while giving an honest account of her experience at LIVES, Schnitter said. “Emily is a bright and caring young woman with a great future ahead of her."