Elaine’s parents came out for John’s baptism which was performed by Elaine’s uncle Father George. It was wonderful having them visit, and quite difficult for Elaine when they left. The Contini’s were our family in California and we were blessed to have Mary and Luigi agree to be John’s godparents. Mary was the mother of seven children, and was our emotional coach for the first few months. We were also thrilled that my mother and father came to visit when John was three months old.
During my parent’s visit my mother had a blood clot and it was a dangerous medical situation. She had experienced a heart attack in 1965 and was still quite frail. Fortunately our dear friend Vic DeFino , an outstanding physician, referred her to a colleague who was a heart specialist. Vic told me he had the personality of a door but was an excellent cardiologist. Fortunately Vic’s colleague was able to have the clot dissolved, and in a week my mother was well enough to return to New Jersey. We loved living in California but the visit of both sets of parents created a yearning to be closer to the east coast so that they would be closer to their new grandson.
The search for returning to the east coast started in earnest and the most promising lead was at the University of Massachusetts. The new state law which eventually became the prototype for the federal law regarding children with handicapping conditions had been passed but local administrations were ill prepared to make the necessary adjustments. I flew back for an interview and the interview process was quite rigorous. I and the other candidates were put through a series of interviews by faculty, officials from the state department of education and graduate students. After two days of these interviews immediate hiring decisions were made. Maddy Bragar a PH.D from Syracuse and I were hired and commissioned to create the program from scratch. Maddy was brilliant,feisty and really knew her way around the secondary school environment. Together we decided that we wanted our staff to model the real world . We hired two African Americans, four women,one person with a visible handicapping condition,a Polish immigrant, a Canadian .two Vietnam vets and an assortment of multi ethnic “bleeding hearts.” We were blessed in that every single hire turned out way beyond our hopes and expectations.
The crux of the academic program was the easy part of our challenge. We were to guide a series of graduate students through a Master’s program in special education. The biggest hurdles were the school principals and superintendents state wise that we had to convince to implement the desired outcomes of the new laws. The reality was that at the secondary level kids with handicapping conditions were in boiler rooms, hallways and a host of other inappropriate settings. Almost no child with a handicapping condition had an individual educational plan and none of the schools were physically accessible.
We targeted thirty school districts and offered a vast number of educational assistance to the officials but we wanted to immediately gain their attention by developing programs which would have them begin to understand the world that these marginalized kids experienced. We had them try to access their schools in wheel chairs, gave them tests in foreign languages and had a host of adults who had been through their schools tell them bluntly what their high school days were like. At times it was tense, but hearing it from the real pros had an moving emotional impact on many of the school officials. Once this was achieved the goal was to provide expertise and support because as many other laws the state mandated change but did not fund it.