icah's going to college. And while thousands of Americans go
every year, Micah Fialka-Feldman, 19, of Huntington
Woods is a pioneer.
Out of 7.5 million people in the United States with devel-
opmental disabilities, Micah is one of the very few who attends college.
And he's one of only three students in a pilot transition program started this
January at Oakland University (OU) in Rochester.
The program is designed to help students with special cognitive needs
transition from high school into college classes and to help them participate
in campus life. Few programs of this kind exist across the country.
Usually, special-needs students are segregated throughout their lives in
special-education classes through high school and in living situations that
can provide supportive environments. But little is available for those, like
Micah, who want to be included in the daily lives and dreams of the gener-
"The value of this program for Micah is if he wants to perform as a non-
disabled person, he needs role models to see what that looks like," says
Rebecca Craig, assistant director of special education in the Rochester
Community Schools. "He has the right like anyone else to be with his peers
and to make connections to jobs."
Craig worked with OU to create the pilot program called the Rochester
Community Schools Post-Secondary Transition Program in Partnership
Micah at Oakland University with one of his peer volunteers, Nicole Bertrand of Troy, left.
New Guy On Campus
Special-needs student tastes college life in new inclusion program.
with Oakland Schools.
"Micah is teaching us that he's capable of many things," Craig says.
"The general student population will also gain from this program and
get a better understanding of students with disabilities and see that they
have many abilities.
"The program teaches compassion-for others — it's a win-win situation,"
"It's a fun program and I like taking my classes and meeting people," says
Micah, who cannot read or write well, and whose speech is slightly
impaired. He also participates in campus activities, such as Hillel and the
Social Work Club.
But Micah is no stranger to inclusion. He was the first student with cog-
nitive disabilities in the Berkley Public Schools to be fully included from
elementary through high school. His parents, Janice Fialka and Rich
Feldman, translated their 1960s activism and ideals into building a support-
ive community of friends, family and professionals around Micah.
Micah's achievements, like celebrating his bar mitzvah or earning his let-
ter in cross country, were double victories — for Micah and for the students
and teachers who worked with him, Feldman says.
"He'll be an inspiration to everybody at Oakland University" says Sidney
Schechet, 17, of Southfield, who met Micah through a Friendship Circle
program five years ago. The two have been meeting once a week ever since.
The Friendship Circle is a Lubavitch-based social service agency in
"It takes guts for Micah to go to Oakland University" Schechet says.
His first few visits as a Friendship Circle volunteer with Micah were for-
mal. Eventually, the two started biking, doing homework together and
going to the JCC. "Micah taught me the value of friendship — to see the
inner goodness of people."
Oliver Hersey, 21, went to Berkley High School with Micah. He admits he was looking
for an easy credit when he volunteered to take class notes for Micah, but their relationship
grew into a friendship.
"I learned what inclusive education is with Micah," says Hersey, who is studying to
be a teacher.
"We all learn differently," Hersey says. "But it's time for people to step out of their boxes
and meet Micah. We get scared when people look a little different. But for inclusion to
work, we need to swallow our fear and find something out about the person."
Mainstreaming or inclusion is an important part of current thought in special education,
says Robert Wiggins, associate dean in the OU School of Education and Human Services.
Students in OU's program learn coping skills and how they can become independent
adults, he says. "They learn what kind of assistance they need so they can transition from
high school into a full, satisfying life. The emphasis is not to put limits on Micah."
Under the program, Micah fakes classes for the experience. He won't earn a college
degree, but he'll discover ways to put his interests and college experience to work for him.
• "Micah could probably tell you more about the upcoming presidential campaign than
anyone else on campus," Wiggins says.
Politics is Micah's passion. He is an award-winning political activist who is currently
interning for state Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Huntington Woods, in Lansing.
"Micah inspires me to fight for what's right," Meisner says. "He's not going to be a sec-
ond-class citizen. Micah has a vision for the way things should be and he's taking affirma-
tive steps in making that a reality ... like having a productive life."
Micah says he hopes to work in Lansing to increase awareness on issues from disabilities
to the environment, to lobby and to pass legislation.
This summer, he will be part of the first national Disability Pride Parade July 18 in
"Unless you have a child with special needs or health needs, you have no idea what that's
like," says Micah's father, a researcher in national organizing for the American Federation of
Labor and author of End of the Line: Auto Workers and the American Dream.
NEW GUY on page 32