Jennifer Jaye (JE '07)
Yoo Jin Cheong (JE '09) is a program officer for the Walton Family Foundation's K-12 Education Program. She recently interviewed fellow Yalie, Jennifer Jaye (JE '07), about her work with the NYC Autism Charter School.
Yoo Jin Cheong: One of my favorite things about my role at the Walton Family Foundation is that I get to both witness and support organizations and people who are making a tangible difference in lives of students and their families every day.
Recently, I had a chance to visit one school, the New York City Autism Charter School, for their annual baseball game, where I ran into a fellow Yalie, Jennifer Jaye. The NYC Autism Charter School is devoted to serving students ages 5-21 who are on the autism spectrum. The school teaches standard subjects in the classroom (math, social studies, English) and life skills -- things like riding the bus, cooking a meal, brushing teeth, etc. When you visit the school, talk to the students and see the parents watch their children participate in team activities like a baseball game, the impact of NYC Autism’s dedicated staff is clear.
I am excited to share Jennifer's story below, and grateful all those who make NYC Autism Charter School possible.
Yoo Jin Cheong: Tell me about your position at NYC Autism Charter School.
Jennifer Jaye: As a Clinical Supervisor, I'm responsible for providing ongoing staff training and supervision to three of our eight classrooms. I work directly with students, their teachers, and very closely with their parents to provide a highly individualized curriculum to each student. I work with staff to troubleshoot around any programs wherein a student may not demonstrate acquisition of a particular skill.
As a charter school, we have flexibility in designing an individualized curriculum for each student. As such, we can program in areas outside of what you might see in a traditional school setting - everything from teaching students how to tolerate going to see a doctor and getting a medical exam, to brushing her teeth, to reading words, to taking turns during a game. I also work very closely with parents to ensure the educational program is as streamlined as possible, creating continuity between the school, community, and home environments.
YJC: What brought you to this organization/cause?
JJ: Interestingly enough, my study of psychology at Yale would end up playing a HUGE role in my interest in autism education, though I couldn't have anticipated it at the time. One of the honors senior seminars in the psych department was an autism seminar at the Child Studies Center with Dr. Ami Klin. It was an incredibly competitive seminar to get into and during shopping period there were about 60 students in the room fighting for the highly coveted 20 spots. By some stroke of luck, I got into the seminar, which included an internship at a program for individuals with autism called Benhaven School. I really enjoyed my time there and was intrigued. As an intern, I mostly observed and assisted, but had few hands on opportunities or responsibilities.
Unlike the majority of my close friends, as we approached graduation, I did not have a fancy I-banking or consulting job, but moved back home to Brooklyn in hopes that I'd have some sort of epiphany about what I wanted to do.
In my attempt to stay financially afloat that summer, I started looking for tutoring jobs, as I'd had experience tutoring students for the SATs and NYS math regents, both when I was in high school and through college. I stumbled across an instructor position (our entry level position) for the school on Craigslist, of all places! I interviewed there 10 years ago and have been there ever since, having been promoted to a lead instructor after my first year. Through a tuition assistance employers benefit, I went to back to school at night at Hunter College to receive my Masters in Special Education and certifications in both General and Special Ed. I went on to take coursework to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and have learned from and worked with some of the most gifted and inspirational people in the field of autism education.
YJC: Do you have a personal connection to the mission?
JJ: I am highly committed to the idea of high quality public education. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to go to NYC's best public school programs, from magnet program elementary and middle schools, to Stuyvesant High School, a specialized school for math and science. I am a product of what this city's education can produce and feel just as strongly that exceptional children should have access to high quality public education. Our school is the first of its kind in the state to provide this level of educational services exclusively to students with severe to moderate autism.
YJC: Who was a notable mentor for you?
JJ: The current Executive Director, Julie Fisher, has been an incredible mentor to me over the past ten years. She is an exceptionally gifted clinician who has not only trained me in my continued understanding in the use of Applied Behavior Analysis, the only evidence-based practice proven to be effective to teach students with autism, but she continues to mentor me in my development in my interpersonal and leadership skills, as well. I feel that she has a true investment in not only the work I'm doing, but in me, myself. I aspire to emulate her in her extreme empathy, understanding, and advocacy for our students and families and her gift in shaping and supporting the best possible self I, and my colleagues, can be.
YJC: What experience at Yale most impacted where you are today?
JJ: This may seem irrelevant, but my second semester senior year, I tore my ACL and meniscus and needed reconstructive surgery. After spring break, I came back to Yale in a hip-to-ankle knee brace and crutches. I anticipated that day-to-day activities were going to be difficult... the wrought-iron gates around campus, while GORGEOUS, were giant and heavy and I was worried they'd be hard for me to navigate around.
Within a few minutes of being dropped off by my parents on campus, I was overwhelmed with the sense of community and generosity I felt from my fellow Yalies. Strangers would hurriedly hustle past me if they saw me approaching a gate, only to swipe me in and hold it open before I got there. I was most overtaken by feelings of community and sister/brotherhood in the dining hall, where my fellow JE spiders would drop their forks mid-meal to help me carry my tray around as I indecisively picked things out to eat at mealtimes. For whatever reason, these are the memories where I remember loving Yale the most... for the selfless acts and gestures of kindness from not just my closest friends of JE, but the complete strangers from the other 11 colleges willing to help an uncoordinated girl on crutches.