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On Tuesday, June 13, 2018, beaming students, families, and McLean staff came together in Pierce Hall for Pathways Academy’s annual achievement ceremony. Pathways Academy was established 20 years ago to meet the psychological, social, and academic needs of children and adolescents ages 6 through 22 with autism spectrum and related disorders.
During the ceremony, 28 students received certificates recognizing their advancement to the next grade. Roya Ostovar, PhD, director of Pathways Academy, lauded the students for moving on to the next stage in their education.
“To our brave, talented, and resilient students: keep showing up and simply do your best every day,” said Ostovar. “I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you and recognize how hard you try every day. Congratulations!”
Ostovar also recognized the dedication of her longtime staff, including Laura S. Mead, MSEd, Pathways Academy educational administrator, and Karen Steves, Pathways Academy milieu manager, and the integral role of families in the students’ success.
“Congratulations to our amazing families,” she said. “Thank you very much for your partnership, trust, and collaboration. We could not do it without you.”
One of the event’s special guests, Boston Marathon bombing survivor Patrick Downes, PsyD, offered these families some simple advice as they continue to support their children’s success.
“What I’ve learned in my training as a clinical psychologist was that we need to tell children the truth,” said Downes. “The more that we tell them the truth, the more that they realize that we trust them, we acknowledge their capacity to learn, their capacity for compassion and curiosity.”
Downes and his wife, Jessica Kensky, received this year’s Pathways Award for their dedication and generosity in helping children. As a result of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, Downes lost one leg below the knee, and Kensky lost both legs below the knee. The couple subsequently wrote a children’s book together, Rescue and Jessica, which is based on the real-life story of Jessica and her service dog, Rescue. And when Downes and Kensky meet children who are curious about their prosthetic legs and Rescue, they are open and truthful.
“We started explaining to kids when we meet them at the grocery store or on an airplane or a different part of the country that we had been hurt by two people who created a bomb … that hurt our legs and many other people, but that the most important part of that story wasn’t the explosions that happened and the evil that two people decided to carry out, but the love that instantly came toward us in the second after the explosions happened,” said Downes. “People ran toward us to care for us, to keep us alive.”
Downes and Ostovar both stressed to the students that the combination of individual efforts and external support is critical in building and maintaining resilience.
“The key is not to give up, to ask for help, to reach out to those who love you, who you trust, who build you up, and remind you of your strengths—perhaps even more importantly to stay away from those you know to be unkind, judgmental, bullying, predatory, and hurtful,” said Ostovar. “Remember to surround yourself with kindness and love, and you can move forward one step at a time.”