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Two Cypress College employees earn top State honors for serving students with disabilities

Two Cypress College faculty were recognized by a state organization for their efforts to advocate and provide excellent educational experiences for students with disabilities.

Dr. Dawn Decker, learning disability specialist, and Professor of Dance Maha Afra were recognized by CAPED, the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability. The organization recently honored the two women for their efforts to make Cypress College an accessible place for students with disabilities.

Decker is a member of CAPED and was recognized internally by the organization for her efforts to ensure that students at Cypress College can access the resources they need in order to be successful in school.

“I feel like (this field) is something that chooses you. I feel like it chose me,” she said. “It’s not where I expected to be. I don’t even live in Orange County — I commute 30 miles to and from campus. But the second I walked onto campus, it felt right.”

Decker works in Cypress College’s Disability Support Services (DSS). She was selected for the CAPED President’s Award, a designation that is given to only one person per year within the organization.

Afra was nominated by Decker for the Teacher of the Year Award for her efforts. Afra, a self-proclaimed proud person with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, has developed dance classes that are accessible for students with disabilities. She said she pays special attention to each class and how each student learns so she can adapt her teaching style accordingly.

“You let the students inform how to teach, not have the students adapt to you,” Afra said. “The class is not about you; it is about the students. We want a collaborative space.”

Decker said this is precisely why she nominated Afra and why CAPED selected her for the award.

“She is such an advocate for the students. She exemplified what CAPED is about — every student having access,” Decker said of Afra.

Cypress College has prioritized accessibility in its programming. The college has: adaptive equipment; note-taking assistance; test accommodations; the ARISE hub, a space for students, faculty, and staff to unwind from the stresses of college life; and more. The ARISE (Academics, Relationships, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Emotional Health) Hub was originally designed to be a comforting, low-stimuli space for students with autism and other mental health conditions, but evolved to provide these services for all students and faculty.
Decker said that Cypress College is so accessible thanks to the hard work, advocacy, and dedication of the entire college to ensure all students can learn.

“We have a fantastic team at Cypress DSS. [Afra] and I may have been the awardees on this, but it’s our team behind us,” she said. “Nobody does this in a vacuum; no one does this alone. We lean on each other. Our hearts are on our students. We want to make sure all of our students have these opportunities.”
Cypress College President JoAnna Schilling, Ph.D. said the college is committed to providing accessible learning for all students who want to attend.

“Cypress College believes that we are made better by having a diverse group of students and by creating an environment of inclusion for all who wish to learn,” Dr. Schilling said. “Having faculty and staff who are also committed to accessibility and embracing all the students who attend our college is key to our success.”
Decker, who has worked at Cypress for nearly a decade, agreed.
“There’s something about Cypress. It’s just the people, the faculty, the staff, the administrators. It’s a beautiful place. The more I worked, the more it felt right,” she said.

About Cypress College:
Cypress College offers students a pathway to their future in an environment in which employees commit to joining students on their educational journey. The college’s half-million-plus alumni include actors, athletes, doctors, executives, mechanics, nurses, and teachers. For some, Cypress College is the ticket into their university of choice, and for others, it provides essential training for a prosperous career. Just one Cypress College class is often all it takes to provide cutting-edge skills that lead to a promotion or a new job.

Cypress College’s 16,000 students and the highly qualified teaching faculty are proud of the many excellent academic and vocational programs. Cypress College provides a pathway for each of our students, offering 56 university-transfer majors, 174 career-certificate programs, and degrees in 98 areas of study. The college’s traditional semesters begin in January and August, while short-term courses start throughout the year. A Cypress College education costs $46 per unit — $138 for a typical, full-credit class — California’s lowest tuition. Eligible first-time students qualify for free tuition through Cypress College’s Charger Experience promise program. Financial aid and scholarships are also available to qualifying students.

Cypress College is one of three campuses in the North Orange County Community College District and a member of the 116-campus California Community College system. The college primarily serves the cities of Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Garden Grove, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, and Stanton.

Located at 9200 Valley View Street in Cypress, the college is easily accessible from several Southern California freeways, including the 5, 91, 605, 22, and 405. The campus is just a stone’s-throw from Downtown Disney and Knott’s Berry Farm.

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Cypress College’s instruction and services are offered primarily in a remote format. Students can access support services online at http://cypresscollege.edu/coronavirus.

This article was released by Cypress College.