The story of service at The Pathway School

William Anthony O'Flanagan, University of Pennsylvania


Persons with disabilities have historically been treated as if their disability was central to who they were; it defined them. That definition frequently framed them as candidates for charitable support or assistance which further focused attention on shortcomings or differences. Over the past eight years, a different way of viewing students has developed at The Pathway School. A residential cottage idea to have their "Christmas" party focus on younger, disadvantaged youngsters in the community eight years ago has blossomed into a culture of community service at Pathway that focused attention on the resources our students have rather than their deficits. A search of the literature uncovered few studies or reports that place persons with disabilities in the caregiver role of the traditional service diad. A large segment of the literature around children with disabilities reports diminished self-esteem, external locus of control, lower perceived competence, and heightened risk for suicide and depression. This study will rely on ethnographic methods, interviewing, document analysis and participant observation to tell the story of service learning at The Pathway School. These methods will be utilized in evaluative and participatory action research frameworks. Rather than attempting to describe, with minimal disturbance, this study will involve the participants in reflection and evaluation of the projects in which they are involved. A key informant of this process was Patrick Syx, whose ten years at Pathway and since then have seen him progress from a disruptive, anti-social pre-adolescent to a 1992 Hitachi Foundation National Service Award Recipient and college matriculant. Other students and staff will also be key reporters on the growth of service and its perceived implications at Pathway. Robert Coles's book, The Call of Service, A Witness to Idealism, stresses the learning process he went through in listening to those whose stories he aspired to tell. I will, likewise, be attempting to tell the stories in their voices of those who are involved in service learning at Pathway. It is hoped the Pathway story will help reframe for people and institutions how persons with disability are viewed--as partners in service rather than recipients of care.

Subject Area

Special education

Recommended Citation

O'Flanagan, William Anthony, "The story of service at The Pathway School" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9712983.