By Erik Luna
The Side-by-Side program, which gives students first-hand experience teaching special education is in danger of being canceled because the Center for Advanced Transition Skills (CATS) is reluctantly ending its ties with the Los Angeles Community College District.
CATS is a collaboration between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the LACCD. Members of the board of trustees from LAUSD will vote to see whether they cancel the CATS program early next month.
Side-by-Side, which has been at ELAC for three years, got started after instructor Linda Wilbur received a federal grant from the University of California Los Angeles.
“UCLA approached me because they heard about my classes. Together we wrote to get the first grant and then we executed the grant,” Wilbur said.
“We then started the collaboration with CATS and then the Child, Family Education Services Department. We bring in students that want to be teachers and they become mentors to the students with disabilities,” Wilbur said.
William Boonsiriseth, a transition teacher with CATS, said that the community was backing up the programs. Congress member Judy Chu, Councilman Peter Chan and a representative from the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina attended an event held last Friday at ELAC’s Child Development Center to show support for the programs.
“When we heard that the agreement was not being renewed we got really worried. We hope that we can stay here and bring the students with disabilities from high school to get an education here – a higher education,” Boonsiriseth said.
There are currently six different CATS locations within the LACCD. ELAC, being the first to have CATS on campus, Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Pierce College and West Los Angeles College all have the program.
Griselda Guzman, a student at ELAC and student leader for Side-by-Side, said that if the CATS program gets cut, it would take a major part of her education away.
“In most of the other colleges, the CATS program is just the CATS program, it doesn’t have an affiliation with the students in the college,” Guzman said. “But here at ELAC, it’s different. We get that experience here and it really does help out when we go apply for a job.”
Guzman also said that Side-by-Side is one of the few places she could get experience teaching to disabled students. “I could volunteer at a preschool, but it would be very different because there would only be one special needs student and I can’t just focus on one student – I have to focus on all the students,” Guzman said.
ELAC interim-President Farley Herzek attended one of the Side-by-Side classes and was moved by the students. “I loved how everyone was smiling,” Herzek said.
According to Boonsiriseth, Herzek will be meeting with other presidents, as well as the Chancellor, of the LACCD to request the program stay at ELAC.