Grant to help Pathlight expand Whole Selves program for developmentally disabled, autistic students

  • Molly Ciszewski, left, and Alice Hawley have each taken the Whole Selves program at Pathlight’s Whole Children. Pathlight has landed a $23,000 grant from two local banks to support its sexual education coursework. The program, called Whole Selves, is designed to help give children skills to build and maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • From left, Danielle Martin, Cade Holden and Aidan O’Donoghue joke around at a social event hosted at Whole Children. The three friends have been taking the Whole Selves program since its inception, both at Whole Children and at Northampton High School. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 12/18/2018 9:50:05 PM

A Valley organization that for a decade has offered a sexual education curriculum for developmentally disabled and autistic students plans to use a new grant to expand its program nationally by offering it online.

Pathlight landed the $23,000 grant from two local banks to support its sexual education coursework that its leaders created a decade ago. The program, called Whole Selves, is designed to help give children skills to build and maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives.

“It’s just not a sexuality curriculum,” said Maggie Rice, director of Pathlight’s Whole Children programs, which include Whole Selves.

The Whole Selves curriculum began in 2008 and is currently being piloted in high schools and middle schools throughout the Valley. Whole Children, meanwhile, offers after school, weekend recreation and enrichment programs to children.

“It’s helping people with disabilities understand that what they think and feel matter, helping them to know themselves, understand their emotions, to understand different relationships,” Rice said.

The program teaches Whole Children students who are reaching adolescence about puberty, Rice said.

Rice was motivated to develop Whole Selves curriculum when she and others realized, “they’re not being taught anything about what’s going on with their bodies, about sexuality, about relationships.”

“Our population has been overlooked as far as being sexual beings,” Rice said.

Soon after Rice started writing lesson plans.

“There’s a lot of repetition,” Rice said. “We break things (concepts) down to a level of understanding.”

Rice spoke about the curriculum’s longevity and being the first of its kind when she and others began teaching in 2008. Pathlight’s curriculum is still developing and evolving.

“It always will be, it always has,” Rice said.

“That is part of why we want it online,” Rice said. “So that we can help it (the curriculum) grow.”

The award, provided by the Westfield Bank Future Fund and the Chicopee Savings Bank Charitable Foundation, has helped to formally develop, consolidate and market its curriculum digitally. Rice spoke about Pathlight’s plans to expand the curriculum nationally online.

Pathlight has partnered with Mount Holyoke College as they prepare for national distribution.

“They’ve developed a really exciting program,” said Gwen Bass, the director of teacher leadership programs at Mount Holyoke.

Bass said Mount Holyoke’s longstanding relationship with Pathlight and the opportunity for the college to support “innovative curriculum,” that, “serves a population that is particularly underserved.”

“Our missions are really aligned,” Bass said. “We’re open to seeing where this partnership goes.”

Throughout the years, the response from parents has been gratitude that these topics are being taught, Rice said.

“They have someone finally talking to them about sex in a real way, and about dating, and about boundaries,” Rice said.

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