PORT EWEN – Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Asher Mapstone, a 2020 graduate of the Ulster BOCES APIE program, offered through the Maple Academy K-12 program at the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning (CITL) at Port Ewen, it was a place where he learned to meet challenges head on.
Asher earned a New York State Regents diploma and was valedictorian of his class at Ulster BOCES—accomplishments that were particularly impressive, considering the challenges he faces both academically and socially due to his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Today, he is a student at SUNY Ulster, working toward an associate degree in Individual Studies. His next goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college.
“Everyone in my family has a college degree,” he says. “I want one, too.”
Asher’s educational journey began when he was just two years old. He received early intervention services to help him with both language and social challenges, and began his formative schooling at the Center for Spectrum Services in Kingston, formerly known as The Children’s Annex.
Asher is not one to give up. Since everyone else in his family graduated high school with a Regents diploma, he wanted that, too. He was not going to settle for an IEP diploma, which is intended for students with differing abilities who have successfully met the goals of an Individualized Educational Plan. Although Asher enjoyed and excelled at math–even taking geometry and algebra ahead of when he was slated to–he needed help with other subjects. Even after getting a low score on his first attempt at the English Regents examination, Asher persevered.
His family and his teachers at Ulster BOCES were there to encourage and support him in this endeavor, he says, and in 2020, at age 21, he passed his Regents exams and earned his Regents diploma.
“When I found out I had passed, I felt like I could relax a little,” says Asher. “I also felt more confident.” Asher named many teachers from Ulster BOCES who helped him along the way, including Penny Levine, Stacey Stankus, Jessica Pedro, and Dawn Appollonia, to name a few.
“They made learning fun,” he said. In his valedictorian address, which was a part of a special video Ulster BOCES created to acknowledge that year’s graduates (who could not have a traditional graduation due to pandemic restrictions), Asher made sure to thank the APIE program’s teachers and staff. “I am so grateful for all of your support!” he said.
Asher also credits his Ulster BOCES counselor, Denise Cooper, for her help. “She helped me get mentally ready for college,” he explains.
The appreciation goes both ways, with Asher’s teacher having both fond memories of him and great respect for the person he is. “Asher was always driven and kind,” says Pedro. “I saw him go from a shy kid into a caring and affectionate young man who always tried his best to be a good friend.”
Pedro also remembers how Asher was a “math whiz” and independently studied Khan Academy videos to improve his skills. He also consistently made the high honor roll, says Pedro.
Besides his love of math, Asher has an artistic flair, as shown by one of his self-portraits, which still graces a school hallway. Teachers also remember his great love for all things “My Little Pony,” and how he would share his “Brony” (a man who is a fan of the My Little Pony television program and range of toys) experience with other students.
Today, Asher is really enjoying his Sociology classes at SUNY Ulster, as well as taking judo classes, but admits that he likes to spend much of his time studying. As his mother Stacy says, “If he doesn’t get a top grade, he is upset.”
Asher says that he has created a method to help him study that involves reading a little bit from each textbook every day, so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed by long reading assignments. “I call it the Daily Concept,” he says. He likes to do all of his assignments in advance and uses tools like the Read&Write Gold literacy software program and its highlighting feature to remember key information.
His biggest challenge this semester was a class on oral communication, a skill he still works on every day. For his Sociology class, his final assignment involved both a written and an oral presentation. Asher researched a topic he is currently very interested in—the negative impact of societal challenges on LGBTQ children and teens.
Asher completed the semester with A’s in all of his courses and a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5.