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Angel: New country, new empowerment, dream opportunity

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Michael Spagnuolo and Angel Vargas
Kent ISD
Michael Spagnuolo and Angel Vargas

When Angel moved from Puerto Rico to Michigan, he had no idea what opportunities awaited him. After entering Kent ISD’s Empower U program at Goodwill Industries his entry into meaningful employment and increased independence began

Joy Walczak welcomes Kent ISD Empower U student & Goodwill Industries employee Angel Vargas, his step-dad Ramon Nieves, and Angel’s Special Education Teacher Michael Spagnuolo from the Kent ISD Empower U Young Adult Transition Program.

Joy Walczak: Welcome to the Your Dream is Our Dream Podcast, where we celebrate student success one dream at a time. this program is made possible by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU. I’m Joy Walczak and I have here with me today, Angel Vargas, who is enrolled in Kent ISD’s Empower U program, along with his dad, Ramon, and his teacher, Special Education's Michael Spagnuolo, who leads the Empower U Adult Transition Program embedded at Goodwill Industries. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. Michael, I'd love to start with you as we begin. Can you tell us a little bit about the Empower U program that you lead that Angel is also part of?

Michael Spagnuolo: I'd be happy to, Joy. So at Kent ISD we have a program called Empower U, which is targeted for individuals with disabilities who exit high school with a certificate of completion. So they have some objectives and goals that they're working on and dreams they want to achieve to help them to live as independently as possible. We have a wide variety classroom settings, different programs if you want to call it. We have Empower U North, Central and South, and we also have 12 community classrooms and I’ll actually use Angel’s as an example to kind of demonstrate what we offer at Empower U. So when Angel first moved here from Puerto Rico, he first went to our Central program where he learned not only some job skills and industry skills and really learning more about our community and what his specialty niche was to find out what he wanted to do for future employment, living independent skills as well. Then he transferred to a new program, which I'm part of, which is Empower U Goodwill. We have a classroom at Goodwill industries where we teach our young adults, the employability skills it takes to obtain and maintain employment at Goodwill, also transferable to other industries. Now we’re talking about next year, moving Angel to one of our other programs at Empower U Meijer, which is a program where he'll be at Meijer learning the retail industry, and how to get 5 or 6 different departments working in Meijer, and a couple years after that, we want him to transfer to Spartan Nash YMCA, which is Empower U Spartan Nash where he’ll learn how to work at the YMCA and other businesses, and then last, we want him to go to Project Search, which is another one of the Empower U programs, where he will learn how to work at the hospital with Spectrum Health. And with the end of his career here in our educational setting, he'll have a wide variety of educational settings in industries where he'll know what he wants to best to better prepare him to live as independently and successfully as possible.

JW: That sounds like a terrific program. Angel. You are really succeeding and achieving a lot of your goals, including getting a job. Can you tell me about that?

Angel Vargas: Well, I am trying to do whatever it takes to actually at first study hard, and then actually work hard.

JW: That's wonderful. And you have already achieved some success. Tell me about what you do it Goodwill Industries.

AV: Well, I mean, I’m in the recycling area, I separate things, like, for example, just about garbage or movies, books and shoes and even single shoes.

JW: Things that people donate that then are turned into recyclable objects or things that are resold in the Goodwill stores to help sustain their programs.

AV: Yes

JW: Now, Ramon, you must be really proud of Angel.

Ramon Nieves (Angel’s father): Yeah.

JW: And everything that he's achieved since you've moved here from Puerto Rico.

RN: Yes, that's correct. Since we moved from Puerto Rico and he's been in the program Empower U, the program Empower U has being really good for him. He's been really, really good working over there. And most of the time when I go over there, I see a lot of the students, employees, working over there and they have a lot of stuff with them, and work doing for them. And it’s not because he's my son, bus since he's been there, he's really doing a lot of stuff. He's doing it very dependently all the stuff. And I really recommend for parents that if they don't know about this program, they should get close to it to see if they can get their kids if they don't know about it to see or learn about it because this program is really good for their kids.

JW: We're really glad to hear that. And Michael, I wanted to turn that back to you. In hearing about Angel’s experience, how does this influence your work as a teacher, and what can educators learn when they ask students like Angel about their dreams?

MS: I think it's important as an educator, it's crucial, that we know what their dream is, let's start with that first and foremost, because if we don't know what their dreams are and their family's dreams are, how can we help them achieve it? Number two, we can use that to be an instrument in our instructional content and make sure that we're aligning their passions with our daily instruction. For example, I know Angel really wants to be a professional photographer when he is older. So we use that as an example and he now knows this is going to be his first job, which is going to be working at Goodwill Industries, and then he can work towards his dream job of becoming a photographer one day. And Angel actually said it best, that this is going to be starting job and he'll continue to study and eventually he'll meet his dream job. So as an educator, it's crucial that we get to know our students – we call them young adults are program – that we get to know our young adults, what their interests, passions and dreams are, so that we can really get them passionate about following the educational plan, buying into the plan, investing 100% of their effort, instead of just coasting through. So as an educator, it’s absolutely crucial to the success for that individual. And for myself, it's just a dream of mine to be able to watch each individual achieve those dreams no matter what it is. And every one of my young adult’s dreams are different, but it's just brings me so much joy to help Angel meet his.

JW: So, Angel, tell me a little bit about your dream. What is it that you would like to do as you grow older and more independent and have more experiences. What are you dreaming about?

AV: Well, at first, I did want to become like a very good photographer, but also I would like to become like a photo reporter.

JW: Fantastic! What kind of stories do you want to tell

JV: To be honest, I don't know. I’m not entirely sure. I think maybe about the city, what it’s about, what's happening at the city, or at least maybe the jungle or the woods, taking pictures of animals and photos at the city with the people and that being a good journalistic story.

JW: What kinds of things are you learning in your education program at Empower U that are going to help you achieve those dreams?

AV: Well, to be honest, I don't know what's going to happen. But the only thing I do know is that if I study hard and work hard, like very good, both them at the same time, then I might actually be going to get the dream that I want.

JW: Absolutely. We can all work toward our goals. How do you think you're going to know when your dreams have come true?

AV: I'm not entirely sure. I guess that only depends about my about my studies and the hard work I've been doing.

JW: It must feel really good to make your parents, like Ramon here, very proud of you.

AV: Yes, they are! (laughter) Yes, but also, I would also definite like to live in my own apartment. And also I would like to learn how to cook and drive a car. And also I would definitely like to use a motorcycle.

MS: We were waiting for it! Haha.

JW: Ramon, what are your dreams for Angel?

RN: Well, and you know, Angel is really surprise for us. First of all, he when he got here, he didn't know how to read. He's been reading. He didn't know really how to write correctly. He’s being doing it. He been doing a lot of stuff. He didn't know how to really cook. He’s been doing it. He one day, he say, I want to try to run a bicycle and now he's doing it. Everything he wants to try to do it, he's now making it. He’s not just saying I want to try – no - he's doing it. And that's something that we're proud of him, because when he say I want to do this, he’s making it and we're proud of those dreams that he’s doing.

JW: That is a true success. Michael, how does it feel to hear Ramon talk about Angel’s achievements and his growth? What does that mean to you?

MS: It's the goal that keeps me pushing forward. It's my carrot at the end of the road. As a teacher and an educator, we work through so many hurdles and my passion is working with the students. It's my favorite part of the job. And hearing the passion I hear from Ramon and Angel just makes my heart feel the joy and it makes me want to work even harder. Every day I give my best and I give it for the young adults and we want to make sure that they reach their dreams and their fullest potential and to live as independently as possible. So to know that through the training that Kent ISD is offering, that we’re helping empower the lives of every young adults that’s privileged to go through our program. We're changing lives, one person at a time. And for that, I feel like Superman.

JW: Well, we think you are a superhero. And Angel, what do you want to say to Michael about this program?

AV: I just want to say thank you, Michael, for helping me and for everything that you are teaching me.

MS: My pleasure, sir.

JW: Ramon, what would you like to say?

RN: Yes, about Mr. Superman, about Michael – I just want I just want to thank you so much for how he's working with my son. I know that is not only with my son, I know for all the kids that work over there, because without him, all of them will not reach their goals. And he's a really special person. Our family really likes the way he works. Every time we need something from him, we just make the call to Michael. We need this and he's there for us. And he's a really special person. That's the person that we like. He is a really special leader for them. Thank you, Michael, for everything. You know that we always talk and we always thank you for everything.

MS: Thank you, sir

JW: I want to thank all of you for talking with us today and for being part of our Your Dream is Our Dream podcast. And we also want to thank everyone for dreaming big. It's been a real pleasure to be with all of you today.

MS: Thank you, Joy

AV & RN: Thank you.

JW: And to everyone who's listening, we want to thank you, too. If you know a student who dreams big, we would love to share their story. You can share your ideas and hear more dream stories at KentISD.org/yourdream. The Your Dream is Our Dream Podcast is presented by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU.

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