Lewis Cass ISD North Pointe graduates four

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The 2014 graduates pose for pictures following the ceremony. From left: Zachary Gant, Clayton Warren, ISD Superintendent Robert Colby, Amanda Haskins and Kenneth Chaney. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

The 2014 graduates pose for pictures following the ceremony. From left: Zachary Gant, Clayton Warren, ISD Superintendent Robert Colby, Amanda Haskins and Kenneth Chaney. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

When Kenneth Chaney first entered Molly High’s classroom, he rarely spoke.

Recalling her student’s first experiences at North Pointe, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District’s learning program for adults with disabilities, High explained that her student had trouble communicating with her and his classmates. When he did speak, he merely copied the words of others, High said.

Chaney was eventually given an iPad with a special application that would allow him to form and display sentences, which High and others hoped would provide him with a successful alternative to speaking.

It was then that Chaney found his voice, High said.

“This was not an option for Kenny,” she said. “He refused to use [the device], and he told me he was
going to talk. And he did.”

Chaney, 23, of Dowagiac, was one of four students who graduated from the North Pointe Center during its annual commencement ceremony last week. Joining Chaney in receiving diplomas for successful completion of the program were Zachary Gant, 20, of Dowagiac; Amanda Haskins, 26, of Dowagiac; and Clayton Warren, 24, of Marcellus.

Educators and administrators with North Pointe and the ISD delivered remarks during the ceremony, which was held at the special education center on Orchard Street. The staff told the four students and their families and friends in the audience of the pride they felt in seeing them accomplish their goals, to move on to the next phase of their lives.

“There’s been too many cases where kids come to us with preconceived notions,” High said. “Others have already determined what these students here can and can’t do. We don’t accept that.”

High worked extensively with Chaney, Gant and Warren over the last several years, helping them navigate through their disabilities to learn how to live independently, she said. Each of them surprised her with the progress they made since first entering her tutelage, she said.

“They have challenged my preconceived notions that I didn’t even know I had,” she said, holding back tears. “They have taught me.”

Gant, the teacher recalled, had wanted to pursue a career in the automotive industry, and was interested in attending auto classes at Dowagiac Union High School. However, she  was concerned that his reading level would present a challenge for him when it came to handling the bookwork required for the class.

“Zach was determined though,” she said. “He started volunteering to read in class. He brought his reading level up by four grades.”

Warren, on the other hand, had returned to the program last year after an extended absence to finally receive his diploma from the program, High said. Completing the program meant a lot to him, given the personal issues he has had to overcome.

“Despite the difficulties, he continues to set goals for himself,” High said. “He wanted to graduate, and he did.”

Both Gant and Warren are currently employed, and both have their driver’s licenses, High said.

Also speaking at the event was Eileen Weingarten, who taught Haskins. With her help, Haskins has learned to manage her daily life with little issues, and could even live in an apartment by herself with minimal supervision, Weingarten said.

“She has more than surpassed any goals that I have set for her,” she said.

The four graduates aren’t the only ones who are moving on from North Pointe, though. This was the last commencement ceremony for Louis Chism, the special education director with the ISD, as he plansto retire this summer.

Despite the bittersweet occasion, Chism focused on the achievements of his students in his speech, shortly before handing out diplomas to the graduates.

“These young people have come a long way,” Chism said. “This is the culmination of all of that hard work and dedication they put in, not only to graduate but to make themselves better people. And they have certainly done that.”