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Breaking Barriers, Inspiring Potential: DVC Special Education Students Empower Others

Nov 21, 2023

“I enrolled at DVC to save money as well as take time to figure out what I wanted to do, gain more experience and work on my mental health,” said Hawthorne “Zack” Girodie, who graduated from DVC in 2023.

Girodie earned his associate in arts in early childhood education as well as a certificate of achievement in special education fundamentals.

“The special education program prepares students for a rewarding career working with children and adults with special needs. Students learn teaching strategies for the special education paraprofessional, study psychology and child development, and gain practical work experience,” said Carrie Million, who focuses on assistive technology and special education at DVC as a member of the Disability Support Services (DSS) faculty. 

Girodie really enjoyed his time at DVC and felt that the special ed program was both fascinating and fun. 

“I loved the different styles of assignments. The program was practical and accessible. The time I was able to spend with professors, advisors, and classmates was worthwhile,” said Girodie. 

Girodie transferred to San Jose State University to earn both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, as well as a teaching credential and special education credential. He feels that DVC provided the right start for his academic goals. 

“I always recommend DVC. It’s perfect for students planning to transfer. The classes required for this major are useful and will help when getting a job,” said Girodie.

DVC special education program leads to a meaningful career 

The special education program equips students to work with people with disabilities in a variety of educational and rehabilitation settings.  

“Graduates are qualified to work as special education paraprofessionals in the K-12 educational setting, as well as other entry-level jobs in adult day programs and care centers,” said Million.  

Degrees and certificates 

  • Associate in arts – special education paraeducator/instructional assistant 
  • Certificate of achievement – special education paraeducator/instructional assistant 
  • Certificate of achievement – special education fundamentals

Students earning the associate degree take part in either an internship or paid work experience. DVC is also part of a regional teacher preparation pipeline that connects students to opportunities. 

“After enrolling at DVC, I worked at after-school programs, caregiving/respite care, and even worked at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District as a paraeducator my last year! I’m currently working as a respite worker through 24/7 Nightingale as well as 24-hour Home Care,” said Girodie. 

Job outlook 

“The overall outlook for jobs in special education is strong. Many school districts across California are looking for qualified special education professionals. Some are even offering significant hiring bonuses,” said Million.

To find out more, visit the special education program.   

Bay Area Average Starting Salaries: 

  • Special Education Teachers, Elementary School: $69,170
  • Special Education Teachers, Middle School: $109,760
  • Special Education Teachers, High School: $94,890  

Connection to DVC disability support services 

Students enrolled in the special education program may also gain work experience within the DVC disability support services (DSS) office.

Opportunities include working as a lab assistant in the High Tech Center (HTC). The HTC offers adaptive computer and software technologies that support students registered with DSS.   Students accessing DSS services may also discover their own career interest in working within the field of special education.  

“I registered for DSS support during my first year of college. It was easy to sign up and learn about options for accommodations. Any time I interacted with a DSS employee, I was treated with respect and care,” said Girodie.  

Reaching her full potential

Lilian Itzel Benitez and DVC student“Growing up, I wanted to continue my education, even though my sixth-grade teacher said that if I graduated high school, I would flip hamburgers and push shopping carts. My parents and 12th-grade English teacher believed I should attend college to accomplish my dream,” said Lilian Itzel Benitez, who began her studies in early childhood education and special education at DVC. 

Benitez overcame many challenges and barriers to pursue her passion and achieve a level of success that some thought would not be possible.  

“I was diagnosed with a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental health issues. Some of the accommodations I received through DSS were alternative media services, testing accommodations, and note-taking accommodations,” said Benitez.  

Benitez graduated from DVC in 2020, earning associate in arts degrees in early childhood education and special education paraeducator/instructional assistant, as well as several certificates in early childhood education. She also gained valuable work experience.   

“I worked in the HTC supporting students registered with DSS. Students would come in to ask for help because they were struggling. We would guide them to the appropriate resources, and reassure them that they were in great hands,” said Benitez.  Benitez transferred to San Francisco State University to obtain her bachelor’s degree. She is now pursuing an online master of arts in assistive technology and human services at California State University, Northridge. She also returned to DVC as an instructional assistant in the HTC to give back to DSS staff and students.  

“When I meet students, I speak with them not only as a former student, but also as a former recipient of disability support services. I let them know that the help we provide will benefit them and contribute to their success,” said Benitez.  

Supporting others with compassionate understanding 

Jaime TomaselloJaime Tomasello found her joy and passion for helping others through her own unique experience as a legally blind student.  “Before I enrolled at DVC, I attended the California School for the Blind and completed some courses at Ohlone College. Although I had initially been interested in a culinary career, I found my interests had changed. I decided to become a special educator for the blind and teach assistive technology and art,” said Tomasello. 

Tomasello graduated from DVC with associate in arts degrees in liberal arts, special education and paraprofessional studies, and California State University (CSU) transfer studies. She transferred to Saint Mary’s College of California where she earned a bachelor of arts degree. Like Lilian Benitez, Tomasello is also enrolled in the master of arts in assistive technology in human services program at California State University, Northridge. 

“When I was a DVC student, I accessed disability support services for both my physical disability as well as my learning disability. I love that the HTC is now in the new student services center building. We are more visible and accessible to students who would benefit from DSS services,” said Tomasello.  

Tomasello works as an instructional assistant in the HTC. She assists students with a broad range of disabilities, providing the support they need to be successful in meeting their academic and career goals. 

“Our philosophy is to show all students respect, kindness, and grace. Students with disabilities should be treated with equity and compassion,” said Tomasello.  

To learn more, visit the High Tech Center

Disability Support Services Ensures Equal Access to Resources and Opportunities 

DVC studentsDVC disability support services (DSS) provides academic support and accommodations to students with learning differences, as well as students with physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities. DSS also often works with student veterans to provide academic support in conjunction with the services available within the Student Veterans Resource Center (SVRC). 

“Our goal is to allow students equal access to the opportunities and resources available at DVC,” said David Hagerty, the manager of disability support services at DVC.  
Options may include: 

  • Extended time for exams and quizzes 
  • Testing in a distraction-reduced setting 
  • Assistance with note taking, including recording and annotation tools 
  • Alternate media, which involves converting written text into other formats, such as audio or Braille 
  • Disability counseling 
  • Training on organization, time management, and prioritization 
  • Transportation on campus 
  • American Sign Language (ASL) and captioning 

How to enroll in DSS 

Step 1: Submit the DSS Application for Services  
Step 2: Provide documentation of your disability
Step 3: Meet with a DSS counselor 

To find out more, visit disability support services.

Don’t Let ADHD Keep You From Pursuing Your Dreams

A 2019 study focusing on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that between 2007 and 2016, there has been a 43% increase in adults with newly diagnosed ADHD. DVC’s DSS team can provide support to students diagnosed with ADHD, or other physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. If you are an adult learner with ADHD, or if you are simply an adult learner juggling multiple responsibilities, DVC can help you to be successful.  

Here are some strategies that can help: 

  • Stay organized and manage your time: It can be challenging to balance family obligations and/or a job while in school. An online calendar or day planner is key to staying on top of responsibilities. 
  • Utilize DVC student centers: DVC offers seven student centers where you can get free assistance with registering for classes, access drop-in counseling, and more. Whatever questions you may have, staff will be able to connect you with the right service or program to meet your needs.  
  • Access professor office hours: Your instructors are an outstanding resource. They are happy to help you understand the course material and will have tips and advice to support you as you prepare for exams.  
  • Contact Disability Support Services (DSS): If you feel you need academic support or accommodations related to learning differences or a disability, reach out to DSS to find out about your options.