PORT EWEN – Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Henry Spencer, a 2020 graduate of the Ellenville Central School District, Ulster BOCES was a supportive, nurturing environment where he was not afraid to ask for help and learned to set many personal goals. Due to Henry’s persistence, and the encouragement of his teachers and family, he achieved one of those goals this spring—acceptance into a four-year degree program.
When Henry received his acceptance letter to Mount Saint Mary College, he said he felt both “thrilled” and “relieved” to be closer to his goals. He also felt confident in his abilities to begin tackling his program of study, a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity.
“My instructors at BOCES helped me become the best I could be,” he says.
School wasn’t always easy for Henry, who was diagnosed with autism. He struggled with making friends and focusing in class, often having emotional outbursts. As a result, he recalls that he “got in trouble a lot.”
But when Henry was in sixth grade, it was recommended that he attend the Ulster BOCES Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning (CITL) at Port Ewen, and that is when things began to dramatically change for him. Classes were smaller, and teachers were able to give him more personalized attention. Even more importantly, Henry says, there were more resources available to help him manage his feelings of struggle.
“BOCES really did help me find myself,” he says. “I learned there that everyone struggles. And I saw that by having someone to talk to, I could get through each day without having trouble.”
When Henry was older, he also spent half his day at the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center in the CISCO & Cybersecurity program. Noting that he enjoys “taking things apart and seeing how they work,” Henry says that he thrived in the academic side of this program—where he got hands-on lab experience through SUNY Ulster. He also flourished socially and emotionally, as he was an active member of both CITL and the Career & Technical Center school community. He participated in many extracurricular activities, including a music club he started, the talent show, and Student Council, where he served as president. In addition, he cooked for others as part of the student-run “Breakfast Club” every morning, was a popular DJ at school dances, and also took advantage of the opportunity to participate in SkillsUSA, a national career and technical student organization dedicated to preparing students for leadership in the world of work.
In addition, he took on another unexpected role, that of a student mentor. Although Henry names many Ulster BOCES teachers and administrators as positive inspirations, they are quick to name him as the same.
“Henry would help his fellow classmates with emotional outbursts and social struggles they were having routinely,” says CITL Principal Richard “Karl” Haviland.
“He was a go-to person in his community. He took time to spend with younger students to talk with them about how our school can help them become the best versions of themselves.”
Stacey Stankus, a Special Education teacher whose support Henry remembers well, echoes Haviland’s sentiments. “Henry not only cared for himself but also for his friends, his peers, his school, and everyone in it,” she said. “He was the first and loudest to cheer on a fellow student, congratulate others, put an arm around a grieving friend, and stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”
After completing the CISCO & Cybersecurity program, Henry went on to earn an associate’s degree in Applied Science, with a certification in Network Administration, from SUNY Ulster. When it came time to apply to Mount Saint Mary, Henry says he felt ready.
“Teachers like Dr. Kathy Landers gave me the skills to take me through SUNY Ulster and beyond,” he says. “When I found out that Dr. Landers is also a teacher at the program at Mount Saint Mary, I was shocked and happy.”
Henry’s parents were also instrumental in helping him reach his goals, and remain a significant influence in his life. Many of Henry’s future goals and aspirations have a connection to them. Henry’s parents are both natives of Jamaica, and he, too, has visited many times. Someday, Henry hopes to start his own WiFi company, and then bring wider internet availability to places like Jamaica, where many people lack access. Eventually, he would also like to help keep children safe by working to identify predators who use the internet to prey on minors.
“At BOCES I learned to always keep working on yourself, and strive to make yourself better,” he says. “And that is exactly what I will do.”