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First Graduates from Novel High School Equivalency Program for Deaf Students at LaGuardia Community College

First Graduates from Novel High School Equivalency Program for Deaf Students

LaGuardia Community College President Dr. Gail O. Mellow and staff from LaGuardia's Program for Deaf Adults with the First Graduates from the National External Diploma Program


Long Island City, NY (February 6, 2017)—LaGuardia Community College’s Program for Deaf Adults recently celebrated the first deaf students to earn their high school equivalency diplomas through a pilot of an alternative program that better accommodates deaf and hard-of-hearing learners.


The program, the National External Diploma Program (NEDP)®, was recently approved by the New York State Board of Regents as an alternative pathway to a high school equivalency diploma.


This is the first-ever implementation of NEDP through the use of American Sign Language (ASL), which is the preferred language for many deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, and the first time it has been used at a CUNY college.


“Once again, our Program for Deaf Adults is pioneering pathways to help narrow education and earnings gaps between deaf and hard-of-hearing persons as compared with their hearing counterparts,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow. “These graduates are now ready to pursue their college degrees, so I hope that the next time I shake their hands will be when they earn their associate’s degrees from LaGuardia.”


The graduating students are Channel Arthur and Pamela Manzueta, both of NYC. They both finished high school with Individualized Education Program (IEP) diplomas, which meant that in order to attend college or qualify for many jobs, they needed to earn their high school equivalency diplomas. However, they had both failed the high school equivalency test—despite coming very close to receiving a passing score.


“For many members of the deaf community, ASL is their first and primary language. As a result, coursework or tests that rely on complex written prose, such as the high school equivalency exam, can be challenging,” said Lakshmi “Sasha” Ponappa, Director of LaGuardia's Program for Deaf Adults. “The fact that we are able to integrate ASL in a meaningful way through NEDP offers many built-in advantages for our students.”


The pilot program at LaGuardia was provided tuition-free, through a grant from CUNY’s Workforce Development Initiative, with supplemental funding from LaGuardia’s Thomas Samuels Scholarship Fund. Additional support was provided by Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems, the organization that owns and administers NEDP, and the New York State Education Department.


LaGuardia’s Program for Deaf Adults is currently actively seeking new funding in order to continue and expand the NEDP program to other deaf and hard-of-hearing students who want to earn their high school equivalency diploma.


“We’re also investigating whether the program could be administered remotely using videoconferencing technologies, enabling deaf and hard-of-students in any area of the country to earn their high school equivalency diploma,” said Pacts Cartagna, Project Coordinator for LaGuardia’s NEDP, and Coordinator of Continuing Education Programs for LaGuardia's Program for Deaf Adults.


Education and Earnings Disparities among Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Population


Data shows that deaf and hard-of-hearing adults have lower rates of high school and college graduation, and relatedly, higher rates of unemployment and lower family incomes, as compared to the general U.S. population. Click here for data on hearing loss among the U.S. population.


“Channel and Pamela, like many of our deaf and hard-of-hearing students who have taken the high school equivalency exam but not passed it, were extremely hard working and held high school skills, but had difficulty expressing those skills in the format of the test,” said Sue Livingston, PhD, a professor in the Program for Deaf Adults, and in the Department of Education and Language Acquisition. “Unfortunately, these challenges are a cause of educational and earnings disparities among the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.”


Drive to Find New Route to High School Equivalency for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Students


After seeing too many deaf and hard-of-hearing students come close to passing the high school equivalency exam but failing, Dr. Livingston began searching for an alternative method that would better accommodate deaf students. A LaGuardia colleague, Amy Dalsimer, Executive Director of the College and Career Pathways Institute and Director of Pre-College Academic Programming, suggested NEDP to Dr. Livingston, who was immediately intrigued.


NEDP is self-led and directed; rather than classes, much of the learning is done by each participant on their own time—enabling students who work full-time or have family responsibilities to participate without having to rearrange their personal schedules. Each student works independently and with advisors and assessors to fulfill 70 competencies in eight areas that include civic literacy, consumer awareness, geography, history and science. Within these areas, which are based on skills outlined in common core College and Career-Ready standards, participants demonstrate high school level abilities by applying them to real-life situations.


“Unlike the high school equivalency exam, NEDP gives students multiple opportunities to accrue and demonstrate competencies through mini-tests, known as in-office checks. There isn’t just one test that students must pass,” said Dr. Livingston, who initiated the pilot program.


“We made some creative accommodations to NEDP for our deaf and hard-of-hearing students. For example, each program assessor provided ASL access that was needed to submit verbal responses to examiners, and each student worked with an ASL-fluent tutor who provided assistance on an as-needed basis,” said Cartagna.


Next Steps after Successful Pilot of NEDP for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students at LaGuardia Community College


“Given the success of this pilot, we’re ready to enroll a greater number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in our NEDP program. The practical life skills it teaches will better prepare young adults like Channel and Pamela, to lead independent lives as productive members of the workforce,” said Dr. Livingston. “We’re so proud of Channel and Pamela, and look forward to watching them take their next steps towards achieving their professional goals.”


Both Arthur and Manzueta plan to enroll at LaGuardia to pursue their associate's degrees, in the near future.


“Earning my high school equivalency diploma means everything to me. I decided to participate in LaGuardia's NEDP program in order to better my life,” said Arthur, who plans to open her own business in the future. “LaGuardia’s Program for Deaf Adults staff gave me help and support that kept me going when I was juggling full-time work and school.”


“Now I'm on my way to earning my college degree and becoming a teacher,” said Manzueta, age 27 of Richmond Hill, Queens. “Pacts and the rest of the Program for Deaf Adults faculty and staff truly had my back since the first day I enrolled. They knew how much I wanted to earn my high school equivalency diploma because I want to be successful, and they supported me every step of the way.”


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About LaGuardia’s Program for Deaf Adults
The Program for Deaf Adults at LaGuardia Community College is the largest, most comprehensive post-secondary program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the greater New York metropolitan region. The program recently marked 40 years of helping deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursue their higher education goals—including more than 10,200 LaGuardia students in the past ten years alone.


The program supports students pursuing associate’s degrees—with special sections of Basic Skills Reading, Writing, and Math taught in ASL. As well, it offers courses taught in ASL, such as high school equivalency, adult basic education, and driver’s education. Through its ASL-English Interpretation Program, ASL-fluent individuals are trained to become ASL-English interpreters. Additional services include classroom interpreters, tutors, note takers, testing accommodation support, as well as academic, personal and job development advisors and other support services.


About LaGuardia Community College
LaGuardia Community College, located in Long Island City, Queens, educates more than 50,000 New Yorkers annually through degree, certificate, and continuing education programs. Our guiding principle Dare To Do More reflects our belief in the transformative power of education—not just for individuals, but for our community and our country—creating pathways for achievement and safeguarding the middle class. LaGuardia is a national voice on behalf of community colleges, where half of all US college students study. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his championing the underserved. Since our doors opened in 1971, our programs regularly become national models for pushing boundaries to give people of all backgrounds access to a high quality, affordable college education. We invite you to join us in imagining what our students, our community, and our country can become. Visit www.LaGuardia.edu to learn more.


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