Orange Slices: Independence Day

Publish Date:

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Category:

News Organization:

Orange Country Register

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Gleefully blowing kisses, Keighly Maria Ruiz recently joined her 708 Los Alamitos High School classmates at Long Beach Veterans Stadium marking the completion of her high school career.

"I'm about to start college - on my own," the 18-year-old Seal Beach resident proudly declared. "I'm very independent."

That's what it's all about. Ruiz, who has Down syndrome, spent the past two years in the school's recently established life skills program. "She knows now that she can make her own decisions," said educational specialist Karen Maffett.

Maffett started the program in 2005 as students like Ruiz - in the vanguard of the movement to "mainstream" special-needs children in their local schools - reached adolescence. This school year, the program served 26 students.

Ruiz, who goes by her nickname Kiki, heads for Cypress College - where she will spend four years polishing her job skills, still under Maffett's supervision.

"The ultimate goal of the program is for our students to be independently employed in the community," Maffett said. "With the help of a job coach for every three or four students, they will work at various sites around the area."

"I love to work," Ruiz said. "I like being around people and I like being nice to people."

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