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Jenny Gray

Jenny Gray- Founder & Executive Director- EWCSD Instructional Assistant

I have lived in Whittier for over 50 years.  As a child, I attended elementary school at St. Mary’s in Uptown Whittier.  I actually met my husband, Steve, while I attended St. Paul High School.  Several years after we graduated, we married and settled in South Whittier.

 

After High School, I attended USC for a few years.  Realizing my path was going in a different direction, I left USC.  I started a small business with a friend, where we painted custom murals in both residential homes and businesses.  I enjoyed working for myself, and I learned a great deal about running a small business.  About two years later, I went to work in the credit department of Nordstrom.  Again learning a great about business, especially customer service. 


It was while working for Nordstrom that I had my first son, Jason.  In fact, it was only one day after returning from maternity leave that Jason got sick with encephalitis.  Needless to say, my new normal was about to begin.  We lived at the hospital for about nine days and left knowing very little about what was in store for Jason and our family.  A few months later, Jason was formally given the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.


Believe it or not, that is when our connection with Special Education began.  Jason immediately became part of the infant program in the EWCSD Special Ed program.  He entered the Preschool Program on the campus of La Colima.  Jason continued at La Colima in the Special Ed kindergarten class.  The following year, he repeated kindergarten as a fully integrated student.  He advanced through the rest of his elementary years as a fully integrated student.   The support from the Resource Specialist Program helped this to be possible.  They worked with Jason, and his reading level began increasing.  During fourth grade, Jason’s teacher and I worked closely together to help him stay at grade level in all his other subjects with the hope that his reading level would catch up.  We discovered that he was an extremely high auditory learner.  From that point on, we modified all of his work to support this style of learning.  He began to receive all his books on tape (discs weren’t a thing yet).  He graduated from California High School with a regular diploma.  


Jason continued to Fullerton College, and with the support of the DSS (Disabled Student Services) office, and the advancement of technology, Jason graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Child Development.  Jason transferred to California State University, Fullerton.  He continued to thrive as a student even though he never really grew past a fourth-grade reading level.  We were all so proud when, 11 years after high school, Jason walked across the stage and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Child and Adolescent Development.


It was while I was on maternity leave with our second son, Alexander, that Jason made the most progress in all aspects of his abilities.  Upon realizing that I really needed to be involved with Jason full time, and the fact that there would be a new baby soon, Steve and I decided that I needed to leave the workforce and just be Jason and Alex’s mom for a while.


In 2002, the principal of La Colima Elementary offered me a job as an instructional aide in a new classroom that was opening, the Learning Center.  Because of my experience with Jason, I had great knowledge and ideas on ways to modify work and support the classroom teacher in other styles of teaching.  Thus began my 17-year career as an instructional assistant for EWCSD.  Throughout my years in the Learning Center, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience working with students of all levels of learning disabilities.


Our family was also extremely involved with Challenger Little League from the time Jason was four years old until he turned 20.  During our involvement, I had the opportunity to interact with many parents, and I grew to understand the importance of networking and supporting parents, children, and families who shared our family dynamic.

 

During this time our younger son, Alex, also realized that our family was not alone in this unusual dynamic. He made friends with the siblings of the challenged athletes.  Steve and I recognized the importance of Alex’s need to have as many “normal” experiences as possible.


Since about 2007, I have been extremely involved with CAPC, a nonprofit in Whittier that supports adults with disabilities in independent living.  I have thoroughly loved getting to know the adults we serve and revel in all their successes. 


Jason is now 31 years old and is currently in his first semester at California State University, Los Angeles.  He is working on his teaching credential to become an Adapted PE teacher.  Alex survived growing up the brother of a special needs person.  He has grown to be a compassionate man.  Alex cares deeply for his brother and sees all humans as whole and complete, no matter what their abilities may be. Alex found himself in the world of martial arts and as a Knight at Medieval Times.  It only makes sense that he would be such a warrior, he always was Jason’s protector and champion


As I look back at our journey in the Special Education program, which started from infancy and continued all the way through high school, I realize the accomplishments we achieved were because we were lucky enough to be surrounded by many supportive and knowledgeable people.  We have learned so much from every one of them.  It is now time for us to finish walking our path by becoming the support and knowledge for others.  I have seen how far adults with disabilities can go.  They can hold jobs.  They can drive cars.  They can graduate from college.  They can live independent lives.  It’s time to bring that message to the parents of our students in special education.