Take the idea that people who are labeled retarded should have the opportunity to live independent, useful lives. Add a dedicated volunteer teacher. Mix with a group of adult students who are determined to overcome handicaps. Season with the varied jobs involved in publishing a small newspaper.
That is the recipe for an exceptional continuing education project that has been going on in this community for 3 1/2 years.
Today the C.U. Citizen, a newspaper started in October 1976 by a group of men and women considered developmentally delayed, is a thriving enterprise. It is supported by business advertising and sales of the paper. People across the US subscribe and contribute articles, poems, and letters. Recently the C.U. Citizen and its staff was featured on television's "PM Magazine." The most important achievement, however, is the improvement of the staff's ability to communicate.
The idea of using the newspaper as a teaching tool for the developmentally delayed originated in the College for Living, a volunteer program started six years ago at Metropolitan State College in Denver to help handicapped adults learn skills for independent living.
When the College for Living was extended to the University of Colorado campus in Boulder (it is now on 26 campuses in nine states), Paul Davinroy, a former teacher with a Master's degree in special education, was asked to teach a course about newspapers. In that class his students decided to start a newspaper of their own, naming it the C.U. Citizen because they were meeting on the Colorado University campus (although most were living in homes for handicapped people).
"I am a machinist by trade, but a teacher by profession," explains Paul Davinroy, who spends long hours counseling the C.U. Citizen staff." Any formal education these people got stopped when they were 21, leaving them without many of the skills they need to live independently. That is why I want to stay with this volunteer work in adult education. Seeing the results of my work is very important to me, and with this staff I do see results. Everything the newspaper is comes from the staff's initiative."
Two editions of the C.U. Citizen were published during that first newspaper course given by Mr. Davinroy, but after the class ended there were no funds to continue publication. Advertising from the business community, and Charlie Dieterle, a friendly staff member, proved to be the answer.
"I'm no salesman, but we discovered that Charlie is," says Mr. Davinroy. "Charlie knows people on a first-name basis all over town. When he became director of advertising for the paper, he put his particular talent to a very positive and practical use." Charlie Dieterle's ability to sell advertising has continued to improve and, in addition, he has moved on to a permanent job and an apartment of his own.
With the business-like procedure encouraged by their adviser, the staff established advertising and subscription rates and commissions for all staff members who sell, as well as payments for those who contribute articles. Advertising revenue peaked in October 1979, with a total of $500 for the month -- enough to pay all current bills.
Half of the 1,000 copies of each bimonthly edition of the C.U. Citizen are distributed nationally to state and national legislators, universities, and subscribers who pay $4 a year. Sixteen new subscriptions were sold recently by Karrie Lewis, a staff member who writes her letters in Braille. Circulation workers sell copies of the paper for 25 cents each to people in the community. They receive not only a 10-cent commission for each sale, but an arithmetic lesson when they turn in the money and have to state what their commission should be.
Regular staff meetings are conducted according to parliamentary procedure by the chairman, Donald Meskimen. Although he cannot read the agenda, he has learned the order of business and keeps the meeting moving. Staff positions are filled by graduates of Paul Davinroy's newspaper course through election at staff meetings.
"Everyone who has stayed with the newspaper has improved in self-confidence and the ability to express himself," Mr. Davinroy points out. "It is the process of communicating that is important, whether they write their story, or dictate it to someone, or draw their feelings, or take a picture of something that means a lot to them."
Because the paper is aimed at the average reading public, Mr. Davinroy edits the copy the staff turns in, but the essential flavor of the writers' method of communication remains. Skills in writing, such as paragraphing and capitalization, have improved, Mr. Davinroy notes. At present he types most of the copy and prepares the layout for the printer.
"Many of the skills required in newspaper publishing haven't been learned by the members of our staff. I have to make up for this -- and there are some things I don't know! But something good seems to happen in the process of sharing one's thoughts and feelings," says the advisor.
The content of the C.U. Citizen is as varied as the interests and abilities of its staff: Richard Adair gives this advice to parents of developmentally delayed children -- "Please teach your children to try. This is very important. Your love and understanding are even more important." . . . Elaine Winter and Susan Wilshire report on a citizen advocacy meeting -- "We can absorb, grasp things, taking things in from a meeting." . . . Ida Jane Morris expresses joy at an unexpected happening -- Tiger lilies, orange star-pointed, Planted over by the neighbor's fence, Their bulbs have burrowed in underneath, Comes up so gallantly on our side, Have come visiting, peek-a-booing up at me!