Elizabeth Alvino and her ASPIRE team ready to ride the van to work.
Elizabeth Alvino and her ASPIRE team ready to ride the van to work.

With an adult autistic son who uses a wheelchair, Elizabeth Alvino understands the fears of parents whose children have a disability, especially with the clock ticking on their high school career. What happens after graduation? Can they become independent? Can they work? Can they take care of themselves? Alvino is teaching a Quakertown Community High School class that she helped create for the 2017-18 school year that has the potential to answer those questions in a positive way. ASPIRE is for students ages 18 to 21, who may have a mental or physical challenge that calls for more schooling to help them prepare to navigate the world after high school.

ASPIRE stands for Acquiring Skills Professionalism, Independence and Responsibility for Education/Employment. The mission of this program is to prepare students to be competent, confident and caring in managing their personal, family and public lives. Students are taught daily living skills, how to gain and retain employment and are educated in self advocacy and interpersonal skills. “These years are critical for achieving as much independence as possible,” Alvino said. “Their future happiness is going to depend on how much autonomy they’ll be able to attain.” Alvino uses the term adulting quite a bit in explaining ASPIRE’s curriculum. “This isn’t just about getting a job, it’s about how to stay healthy, how to stay safe. We teach about credit scores. Personal finance. This gives students an extra three years before they really have to go off on their own.” Twice a week, Alvino and the students pile into a district van and head to one of three destinations — Hope ReStored Thrift Shop, the Quakertown Food Pantry or Swann’s Pantry. The students organize shelves, put price tags on clothing, sort items according to categories, check clothing for holes, learn to iron and place things on hangers. They also learn how to prepare food safely, practicing ServSafe protocols for food handling. “Are the students making progress? Oh my gosh, yes.” Alvino said. “We started with nobody understanding checks, let alone how to write one. Now they know how to endorse, make bank deposits online, and balance an account. All of them know how to write a check so that any bank would accept it. I think that’s pretty huge.”