College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development

Supporting Mason LIFE

June 6, 2019

By Jerome Boettcher

What started as a way to raise money for a great cause snowballed into a friendly competition throughout Lees Corner Elementary School in Fairfax.

A month later, the school’s enthusiastic student body exceeded expectations in a fundraising effort that benefitted the Mason Learning into Future Environments (LIFE) program.

Recently, Lees Corner special education teacher and College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) alumna Laura Dinan stopped by the CEHD offices on the Fairfax campus to deliver a $1,100 check on behalf of Lee’s Corner to Dean Mark Ginsberg and Professor Pam Baker, division director for the college’s division of Special Education and disAbility Research.

Lees Corner enhanced autism teacher Maria Filgueira (MEd ’05), also a CEHD grad, created the Coin-a-Day Challenge in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month—both recognized during April. Marley’s Mission, a free equine-based therapy for children who have been abused or traumatized, was chosen for Child Abuse Prevention Month.

When the faculty at Lees Corner pondered which charities or non-profit organizations to organize a school fundraiser for in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, Dinan suggested Mason LIFE.

Dinan received her master’s degree in CEHD’s Special Education program at Mason in 2017 and, while in graduate school, she served as an instructor for Mason LIFE, which offers postsecondary curriculum for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

She isn’t the only one at Lees Corner with a strong connection to the program. A pair of colleagues—Katie Bamberger (MEd '17), a multiple disabilities teacher, and Olivia Yellen, a social worker at the school—also worked at Mason LIFE as instructors.

Now finishing up her second year as a K-6 special education teacher for students with intellectual disabilities, Dinan still looks back fondly at her time at Mason—and with Mason LIFE in particular.

"I’m still in contact with kids who are now adults who were on my caseload," Dinan said. "I come back every year for graduation. They are so proud of themselves and we’re so proud of them. They are all going off and getting jobs. I feel like a lot of people don’t know that is possible. I just love all the components with it."

Over the month of April, Lees Corner students brought in change for the two causes. Every day the stakes were raised: pennies on Mondays, nickels on Tuesdays, dimes on Wednesdays, and quarters on Thursdays.

Fridays? Well, that was a free-for-all as students could bring in whatever currency they wanted. Mom's and dad’s purses and wallets weren’t off limits.

"Kids were bringing in $20s," Dinan said, laughing. "They were talking about it at the PTA meeting, saying that if kids asked for all your money right before the bus stop, this is what it went to. It was really cool."

"Then it just exploded. Kids were bringing in cash. Every classroom had a jar. We made it a competition, and other classrooms took it to a whole new level."

The school raised $2,200 in less than four weeks. The donations were split, with half to Mason LIFE and the other half to Marley’s Mission.

"It’s great to see this happening," Ginsberg said when Dinan stopped by campus. "I was just thrilled when I heard about the fundraiser." Though the fundraiser has ended, Dinan plans to continue to raise awareness for the Mason LIFE program. In May, she held a special education curriculum night for parents of her students at Lees Corner.

Mason LIFE academic specialist Caroline Foster, a CEHD PhD student who received her master’s degree in special education from the Graduate School of Education last year, spoke on behalf of the program. She was joined by her brother, Alex, who just graduated from Mason LIFE in April.

"I feel like so many parents don’t even know [Mason LIFE] is an option," Dinan said. "It was something I didn’t even know really was a thing before I was introduced to it... It is cool because Caroline can talk about it from the administrative point of view. She has also taught classes. And Alex can talk about it as 'I just completed this. I was a student.'"