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THMS students with autism celebrate graduation
As families and friends flooded Tucson High on graduation night to celebrate their new graduates, a different kind of ceremony was already taking place. Tucked away in a classroom on the third floor of the historic building was a special toast for five extraordinary individuals and their families. In a moment, the toast would end and the students would filter back into a throng of over 600 of their crimson-gowned peers. For now, however, they were enjoying their special commemoration as students with autism to graduate from Tucson High.
The Tucson High autism program has been operating for over eight years. In that time, it has grown to garner support from three full-time employees, two SLPs, a psychologist and a social worker. There is also an occupational therapist who supports the students. Annually, the program supports 40-50 students who attend Tucson High with autism.
"Our students' strong work ethic is demonstrated consistently over their years in high school," said Kacey Chandler, who has been with the program since its inception. "Our team enjoys honoring their hard work with our annual toast."
Dr. Chandler operates as the students' psychologist. The rest of the team includes: Taava Church, an inclusion teacher; Alisandra Sainz, a self-contained teacher; Jesus Federico, a self-contained teacher; Ruth Aguilar Hansen, a social worker; Jen Salmon, an SLP; and Lydia Garcia Liu, an SLP.
"They make the kids feel a part of something," explained parent Bernadette Ojeda. "Too often, these students are brushed aside and they don't receive recognition for their accomplishments."
Bernadette's son, Ernesto, is a talented mariachi musician. He was accepted into the Project SEARCH transition program at the UA campus next year where he will attend before transferring to college full-time. He has a strong interest in meteorology and would like to study weather forecasting.
Photo of Graduating Students
Bernadette is adamant Ernesto would not be where he is today without the inspiration of his teachers, which began at Roskruge with Learning Support Coordinator Dale Lopez and Student Success Specialist Rudy Valenzuela. Dale influenced Ernesto to participate in basketball, while Rudy introduced Ernesto to mariachi. At Tucson High, Ernesto enjoyed four more years of growth in the autism program.
Joining Ernesto in graduation were:
Bryton Coy – Bryton was a member of the Tucson High football team all four years of high school. He is interested in demolition and will attend Pima College next year.
Photo of graduating students
Anita Kono – Anita was a skilled and reliable Tucson High office assistant for the past four years. She is interested in pursuing childcare and also was accepted into the Project SEARCH Program.
Luis Ramirez – Luis was a member of the Tucson High football team in 10th grade. He loves sports trivia and history, and will attend Pima College as well to pursue his education.
Damian Amado – Damian is a talented artist. He has been accepted into the Project ACT program, where he will be pursuing his career interests.
The eclectic group may differ in educational pursuits and career desires, but they are connected by their dedication to their goals, which was cultivated and refined at Tucson High and signified by their special graduation toast.
Bernadette Ojeda agrees, "If you give these students the proper support, they will amaze you with what they will accomplish."