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Feb. 1, 2022

Step Forward at Gateway: The only transition program at a community college

Step Forward at Gateway: The only transition program at a community college

Episode 3: Stepping forward at Gateway Community College

In this episode we spoke with Jamie French, Director of the Step Forward Program at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. Step Forward is a 10-month transition program for young adults with mild cognitive disabilities.  During the interview, Jamie elaborated on the curriculum which she says focuses on interpersonal communication, daily living skills, executive function skills, college readiness, and workplace readiness. She emphasized the clique free diversity amongst students and even went so far as to say that it’s not unlikely to see both eighty somethings and high school students on campus!

During her tenure with the school, Jamie has seen hundreds of friendships develop within the program and she even saw one friendship blossom into love and then marriage. Students who move into Step Forward II take courses for college credit, and the expectations are higher said Jamie.  When asked what myths she would debunk she stated that, “In life, failure is an option because it is through our failures that growth occurs.” Another myth she wanted to debunk is the myth that individuals with disabilities should be shielded from failure and protected from difficult situations.  “Students should be allowed the dignity of risk” she says.

Jamie has been the Director of Step Forward for seventeen years. It is the only transition program in Connecticut run by a community college.

To learn more about Step Four, visit 

To read more about Jamie French, visit

To learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Act or IDEA, visit

To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, visit  or     

Resources mentioned in this episode: To reach Jamie directly, you can email her at

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Jeremiah Barrett  0:00  

Hi, I'm Jeremiah. And I'm Andrea. We are your hosts of Chats with Two Dyslexics a podcast that aims to inform, entertain and empower.


Andrea Goodrich  0:09  

If you are a curious person who could use a weekly dose of positivity then you've come to the right place. Welcome to chats with two dyslexics. We are so happy you are here. We have a great guest today. Her name is Jamie French, and she was appointed a member of the Connecticut Transition Task Force.  Jamie runs the Step Forward program. She is the director at Gateway Community College. The TTF directly supports the Connecticut State Department of Education and its efforts to guide students with disabilities, families, schools, and state and community organizations to facilitate the students transition to post school activities. Jamie brings a wealth of experience to her appointment. She's headed Step Forward, the only transition program in Connecticut run by a community college for 16 years. So thank you, Jamie so much. I'm going to hand this over to Jeremiah.


Jeremiah Barrett  1:03  

Thank you, Jamie, for coming on our podcast.


Jamie French  1:05  

Oh, thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure.


Jeremiah Barrett  1:07  

 So I will like to talk about how we met. I remember a little bit I think I met you not virtually but you went to my IEP meetings and like you will talk on the intercom and you were like doing research. You found out that I ran a campaign for our service dog to get like nominated. You did like research on that. I was like, Oh, wow, she does research. She's knows his stuff. Speaker 2 Were you in high school then Jeremiah when that happened? Speaker 1 Yeah, I was in high school. I was in high school. And I think it was like the end of my senior year. And then like I went to visit a couple of times Speaker 2 At Gateway? Speaker 1 Yeah, like I joined the class. Yeah, Gateway. I met with her and I'm like, I liked the program. And I wanted to stay. So that's my perspective. 


Too bad you couldn't take the therapy dog with you.


Jamie French  1:53  

Yeah, I remember meeting you Jeremiah. And I remember reading and listening to hearing a lot about all of the really unusual kind of neat things that you did. I was excited to have you visit our program. I remember your mom and dad and your your some of your siblings were with you. It was like the whole family came. And it was like family. Yep. You had you had a group of people with you. And we went in usually when students come to visit the program, they get to come into one of the classrooms and meet all the other students and so yeah, that was few years ago now. Now, you're an old timer at Gateway.


Andrea Goodrich  2:31  

Where is Gateway Community College Jeremiah, is it close to your house?


Jeremiah Barrett  2:34  

 It's in New Haven? Okay. Ah, um, it's, um, it's not like far away. But it's it's it's close. You know. Speaker 2 you wouldn't want to walk there. But you drive there. Yeah, you wouldn't want to walk there. You probably like take you like almost all day. Plus, it's like, not safe. Because like my road is like, no one like, likes to slow down. So. Yes. So I would like to talk about like, how you started? Where'd you where'd you grew up? Jamie, how did you like how were you like as a child?


Jamie French  3:03  

Well, I grew up in upstate New York near near Albany, New York capitol, New York State. Okay. I grew up, you know, had two, I have two sisters. I'm the middle. So that makes me kind of strange, I think. And I actually went to five different elementary schools. So that makes me kind of unusual because we moved, you know, when I was in school, so we moved from we were living in upstate New York, then we moved to California and then back to New York. But I spent all four years of my high school experience in one high school, which was good. Growing up, I always liked working with people who needed assistance. And I also love to write and I was always doing things with creative writing. So that was another area I enjoyed.


Andrea Goodrich  3:45  

You like to help people like you would candy striper, or did you volunteer at like soup kitchens, or how does that show up for you?


Jamie French  3:53  

Actually, I worked at a Boys and Girls Club camp. The Schenectady Girls Club. Now, if you can say Schenectady Speaker 2 Nope. Speaker 3 that's a good one. And you can spell it, it's even harder. But it was it was a camp for young girls who, you know, had financial need and they went to day camp and I was a volunteer camp counselor. And I really enjoyed helping the girls because they they all needed sort of a big sister and and I would do that each summer.


Andrea Goodrich  4:19  

That sounds great. Are those types of agencies still in existence today? The boys and girls clubs? Yeah,


Jamie French  4:25  

I know the girl. Yeah, the boy. I know. There's one in in Shelton. And so yeah, all of those kinds of organizations are really near and dear to my heart. I love nonprofit agencies. I've always worked in the nonprofit and you know, I've worked at ARC, which is the Association for Retarded Citizens, which they don't call that use that term anymore. But that was back when I was in living in Schenectady. I worked when I was in Utah. I lived in Utah for 10 years. And I worked for Easter Seals in Utah in Utah, which is another nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities and then two different community colleges. The College I work at now G


Gateway. And then I also worked at Salt Lake Community College where I was the where I worked in the transition for students who had disabilities coming into Salt Lake Community College and helping them with their accommodations, you know, all of the note taking interpreters, extended test time. So I've always been involved with some type of organization that assists people with disabilities.


Andrea Goodrich  5:23  

That's great. So were your parents like that? Or did you just come out that way?


Jamie French  5:29  

Well, you know, it's interesting, my mom was, was a fourth grade teacher always was she was a teacher, she also was a travel agent, when my dad was a traveling pharmaceutical salesman, so but all of my sister, my two sisters, and I were all in somewhat of the helping profession, and my younger sisters, a teacher, and my oldest sister's a social worker. So we did tend to have that my mom being, you know, in that teaching mode, I think definitely was an influence. Nice.


Jeremiah Barrett  5:58  

So that's what led you to become like a special educator, because your parents? Yeah, I,


Jamie French  6:06  

you know, it's hard to say I just, I've always loved working with people that see the world a little differently. And I love working with people that have different types of abilities, where it's not, you know, like, I enjoy working with people with learning disabilities and autism, because I feel as though we, you know, I have a lot to learn about the way in which they see the world. And so I just enjoy working with people that sort of have a different perspective. And so that's some similar to people with disabilities, but also people of all different cultures and different backgrounds. So I guess that's where I come from, as I always say, I love I love working with people who are different than myself. Me too.


Andrea Goodrich  6:47  

Did you study special ed in college?


Jamie French  6:50  

I studied psychology as an undergraduate. And then I actually went  a little bit of a different direction, I ended up getting a master's degree in American Studies, which is in the English Department. And I did American cultural studies. So I studied a lot of Native American, African American literature, women's studies. So it was more cultural studies. And I, I really see different disabilities as different cultures. A lot of times, especially when I worked with the deaf community in Utah, I found that their language in their community was so incredibly interesting and rich that I enjoyed working with with the deaf folks, I've enjoyed working with the blind. And I love working with people with autism, because they have, you know, a different background. So it's, it's, even though it seems like Oh, you went to get an English degree and Cultural Studies, how could that relate to what you do? Now? I see all the time that it is related. I'm kind of that that's how my brain works. I see connections versus the differences.


Andrea Goodrich  7:53  

That's really cool. I like that.


Jeremiah Barrett  7:56  

So I don't know if we talked about this, but, how did you get your start atGateway Community College?


Jamie French  8:00  

Well, what happened was is when I was in 2000,let's see, it was 2002 yes I moved to Connecticut with my then two year old son and my former husband and we moved back to the east so it could be near family. And I had taken some time off with my son because I wanted to be home with him. And when I got to Connecticut, all I wanted to do was be back in a community college. So for two years, I just waited and you know, just looked I stalked community colleges in the, in the, in the state and waited for a job opening. I applied to everything. And I saw this ad or the the announcement for the Step Forward program. And I was like, I don't even know what this is. I just think it sounds pretty cool. So I went to an interview and, and it was funny, I was just thinking about my interview, because it was like, they were like kind of explaining what they wanted. And I said, Do you want this or like, well, not really, and in the interview was so fun, because they were just kind of coming up with this idea of a Step Forward program. And they were like, we just need someone to get this off the ground for us. And I said, Okay, I'll do it, you know? And it was it was just kind of like, oh my goodness, what the heck did I get myself  into ? And that was 17 years ago. So I think I got it. I think I got it now.


I must have done it. Right. Well, you want to hear something funny? For two years, Jeremiah has been talking about this program. And I, having trouble understanding things that I hear, thought he was in a program called Step Four, F-O-U-R. And nobody ever corrected me. The Stop Four. Like one of the Al-Anon steps or something?


Andrea Goodrich  9:21  

Well I have a funny story. A lot of people call it Fresh Step. And I said no, no, that's a kitty litter I think (laughter).


It could be worse. Well, all names are kinda catchy they all kinda. Yep. Kind of point to what the program is all about.


Jamie French  10:00  

So that's how I got into it Jeremiah. I took the bait from the college and they, you know, I, they just said to me, this is what we kind of want you to do. We want you to create a program for students coming in who, you know, when they that have difficulty with traditional learning, you know that they they have barriers, they have challenges, and they need to be coming to Gateway and not being sort of feeling demoralized or feeling like they're not getting anywhere. They need something supportive and they are there so that they leave successful and not frustrated. So I was like, Oh, that's easy. Sure, I can do that. No, and it evolved over time. But what was really great is they let me have a lot of freedom and a lot of control over what I did. And the people that were there before me had created a great foundation. So I came in and I had some things in place because of them. And then I just I went to work every day and practically had a hyperventilated every day. But


Andrea Goodrich  11:04  

gosh, so what exactly was,


Jeremiah Barrett  11:06  

Oh, I was gonna ask a question. But so would you would it be okay, if you talked about some of the success stories that has helped students in your program?


Jamie French  11:16  

Well, I guess I would be remiss if I didn't say you.


Andrea Goodrich  11:19  

This podcast is secretly about Jeremiah.


Jamie French  11:21  

Surprise! Yeah. Well, I think Jeremiah, without embarrassing you, which I am, um, I think you're a great success story. Because you, you went through the step forward program, you know, you're, you know, a model student and taking advantage of all the resources. And Jeremiah has a great internship at Gateway working in the educational technology department. So using your skills that you love to do, and helping the college is really phenomenal, because that's, that's what gives me goosebumps when I can have a student come in, and they thrive, and they use the resources and they keep, you know, like I found out Jeremiah, that you're going to take more than one class, and you're going to, you're going up in the ante there with your academics, and you're helping AlFonzo who is our Ed Tech Director, I mean, that's, that's where it feels like, you know, the magic happens, it feels really good to see students just kind of find their way find their people enjoy their education. So you are a success story, you know, it's it's getting to the point where I've got a lot of great stories, you know, where students have just found their  found friends have found jobs have found, you know, I've had students admitted to Phi Theta Kappa, which is the Honor Society on, you know, which is the one student who was, you know, inducted into Phi Theta Kappa and ended up getting a 25,000 a year scholarship to Quinnipiac to study, you know, just some really cool things. And then I've had students who say, I never thought I would ever be able to go to college, and you know, their parents have cried, because it's like, it's a dream come true. So I do have a lot of a lot of memories of students, you know, and some of them have been tough stories. Some of them have had, I've had students that have been in the hospital because of mental health disorders, and they've had to, like, take some time off and withdraw, but they come back had students who have failed classes or failed tests. And you know, what we say my motto, even though it probably is not popular is "Failure is an option." Because what happens when we fail is we learn a great deal about what we're made of, and how we solve problems. And for all of you people out there who think that you have to protect people from failure, I would say, oooh, that's, that's not the way to go. We got it. We got to learn from mistakes. You know, I love that. That's, yeah,


Jeremiah Barrett  13:51  

yeah. So that. Yeah, that's powerful. That's great. Thank you.


Andrea Goodrich  13:57  

I'm wondering, so for Jeremiah, has anybody met their future spouse in the Step Forward program? Any romantic connections made?


Jamie French  14:04  

Yes, actually, we had one in there and they're still going strong with us back when we were in North Haven, I would say it was like maybe four, four years into the program. I had a student two students from North Haven who were buddies and they went one of them he doesn't mind if I use his name, Ryan, he came to the program and the next year, he wanted to volunteer with me and I said, Sure. And there was a young woman there who he volunteered with quite free with frequency and quite, he kept kind of like, hanging out with her like, but there's other students Ryan and he'd go right back to her and it was just like, clear that they they liked each other. And after, after that year, you know, I found out they were dating and then actually shortly, like right around when I got remarried, which was in 2015, they got married. So it was really cool. Speaker 1 and 3 (I love it! Oh wow) Speaker 3 So yes, one marriage. Speaker 1 and 3 (laughter). Speaker 2 I'm always looking for romantic connctions. Speaker 3 But we  don't advertise that. No dating services.


Andrea Goodrich  15:11  

Speaker 1 Yeah. Speaker 2 It's probably more expensive than dating services and a lot more authentic than apps. So, yeah, great way to meet people and even friendships I imagined. A lot of people find connections.


Jamie French  15:25  

Yeah, absolutely. The friendships are great, you know, students who hadn't really had friends in high school or limited, you know, experience with that have come and felt more accepted. And what I love about the community college and Step Forward, but especially the community college is that there's less of those, you know, kind of cliques that happen in high school and people of all ages and all backgrounds or tend to go to community college. So we have, you know, some students that are still in high school that are, you know, 15 or 16 years old, and we have students that are in their 80s. And we have all walks of life. And if you can't find somebody there that you like, it's hard not to. It's just such a diverse place, and it's accepting in that way, you know, people don't tend to judge they're not as judgmental because I remember when I went to high school a million years ago, there was kind of those cliques, the, you know, the popular kids and, and the jocks and you know, and it was hard, but at Gateway I feel as though  people tend to be a little bit more forgiving, and a lot less worried about, you know, those kind of superficial things.


Andrea Goodrich  16:31  

You know, that's a great segue into our next question, which I know Jeremiah is going to ask you. But before he asks you how students can become part of the Step Forward program, I'm wondering what types of students might be interested in looking into your program? Like, for example, you mentioned autism. So if you could just tell our listeners, you know, who are out there struggling with Where am I in my life? Where am I going? What am I going to do? Is this a place I can turn to?


Jamie French  16:58  

Yeah, so we have kind of changed our model a little bit, but But what we what we would invite students who are about ready to graduate high school who, you know, for whatever reason, they're there. They're on an IEP, so our students have an IEP, so I'm guessing your audience knows what that is?


Andrea Goodrich  17:17  

Probably not. Because we haven't, maybe the if they heard the previous episode with a parent, with a child advocate, she explained it, but we might have some new listeners. So if you wouldn't mind.


Jamie French  17:28  

Yeah, so when you're in special education as a, you know, K through 12 student, you, you're given an individual education plan, or IEP, and that's just, you know, the way in which it's a document that, you know, covers what, what needs to be done in order to work with a student who has a documented disability. And so what we do is we accept students who are currently on an IEP and their team, their PPT has decided that for for the purposes of transitioning out of high school into post secondary options like college or work, etc, that they need some type of support, and our students are given extra time to complete some transition goals. So they go pass. So they have finished their high school credits, and they could take a diploma and graduate if they wanted to, but their team, you know, feels it's appropriate for them to stay under the Board of Education for however many years it takes in order for them to, you know, work on these goals and up to the age of at least 22 it is now they changed the law. 


Andrea Goodrich  18:30  

What kind of goals would you say like, like learning how to drive or take a city bus or the train or subway? so


Jamie French  18:38  

the goals that we work on are academic goals. So students who are coming to our program are typically interested in some type of education at the community college level, and that can that can be a certificate program or a traditional degree program, some of our students will start in what we call developmental or remedial coursework, where they're it's not quite college level yet, they may not be ready for that when we determine that through some testing, but they're, they're interested in some type of, you know, credential from a community college. So that's, that's one piece of the program. The other piece is that they in order for them to, you know, access that programming or that those courses, they need some accommodations and they need accommodations through our Student Accessibility Services Office, that's ADA services. And then we also offer as part of our program, sort of advising and sort of scaffolding and support. So when the students are taking classes, they have an advisor that they work with weekly, they have a group advising that talks about how to develop executive functioning skills, how to stay organized, how to handle anxiety, and you know, prioritizing things. And then the students also do an interpersonal skills piece, which is where we go into the community and work on you know, just being Social in the community. So students go out and have fun together and just kind of learn how to kind of negotiate the social piece of life. And also, they go out and take public transportation. So they take the bus or the train and do all sorts of things. And then they also work on work related skills. So they do work internships at Gateway.


Andrea Goodrich  20:21  

So you've talked about how the program can offer skills that support work, social skills, academic skills, for executive functioning, for our listeners who don't know what that is, and how would they even know they have trouble with that, if you could maybe give an example to help them understand that, hey, I think I have this Yeah.


Jamie French  20:40  

Right. Yes. So a lot of people struggle with executive functioning skills. I mean, it's sort of like an in lot of different types of disabilities, you know, you know, sometimes it's ADHD, sometimes it's, it's, it's autism, it depends, you know, on your diagnosis, but just generally speaking, the way I would characterize executive functioning skills is the ability to kind of self regulate, sort of stay on task, the ability to organize, time-management, and that's what trips a lot of our students up is that ability to kind of manage things at college level. So you know, when they've been in high school, they might have had sort of a a lot of supports that have helped them with those things. And when they move to a college environment, and there's less support, they struggle, you know, so we do things like keep visual calendars, you know, have a weekly check in, you know, utilize academic accommodations, like note-taking services and extended test time, that kind of thing.


Andrea Goodrich  21:38  

So when you mentioned the ADA office, is that Americans with Disabilities Act? Yes. Thank


Jamie French  21:43  

you for saying that. Yes. So when students move from high school under high school, they're covered under the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when they move into post secondary, you know, college or employment, they're covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So they switch over and our program is like a bridge program, because we're taking students from one place to another, you know, the kind of crossing over. So we're getting them even though the the IEP is under IDEA, all that alphabet soup there. When they move to the college, they're expected to, they fall under ADA. So things change. And that's, that's a lot of what we help our students with is understanding how things are changing and how they can adapt to that.


Andrea Goodrich  22:28  

I wish I had had that growing up. I remember having a lot of support in high school, my freshman year was a disaster. I showed up to a class, and the professor asked for my paper. So I said, Well, we had a paper due today? And he said, Yes, I said, Oh, I thought we had a test. I studied for a test. I didn't even have a datebook back then I didn't even know how to organize and plan and we didn't have technology back then. So I think technology has been a game changer for people with executive functioning challenges. I know Jeremiah, you're so good with it. You're always send me invites to meetings. And then on my calendar, and then I get a confirmation reminder. And it's almost impossible to forget. So you got it. Jeremiah, I don't know if you learned it on your own, or,


Jeremiah Barrett  23:10  

but I hope this still like effects me sometimes I forget about things or I switch my schedule. Sometimes I'll be like, Oh, we have this today. It'd be like, Oh, it's next week. So I'm still working on it. I'm trying to get better at it.


Andrea Goodrich  23:23  

So a work in progress for all of us I think. Cuz As we change, our demands and stressors change. And you know, once I had kids things really got crazy, because now I am I not only managing myself, but three little lives. And everybody has a different schedule. I wanted to circle back if I could and ask you when you said sometimes testing is done for kids to help or not kids, young adults to help them understand what they might need for academic supports. Is that like standardized testing? Or is it more like just Gateway has their own assessments?


Jamie French  23:54  

So when we admit a student, sometimes they have taken SATs, you know, and a lot of times not, or if they've taken SATs or ACTs they haven't done well. And I think that's I would venture that too, because it's kind of a high stakes test with a lot of anxiety. And people just don't do well in that environment. So what we have is an alternative method, which is an Accuplacer, which is a it is a College Board test, but it's a lot less stressful. I think, Jeremiah, you took that so you could speak firsthand, but it's on the computer, it's not you know, it's not like an SAT, you know, which is I think an all day affair these days. So it measures where the student is academically both in math and English and that helps us place students in the proper course and so so some students don't play into place into college level and I would say probably over 80% of students at Gateway in general do not place into college level it's we have a lot of remedial courses because students are not necessarily prepared for college level at when they come in the door. So we're it's not just students with disabilities. Wow.


Andrea Goodrich  25:00  

Does that speak to the education system? Or I wonder where that's coming from? Or does it just mean we have students with more disabilities nowadays?


Jamie French  25:08  

Well, I think, you know, the community colleges is one of the one of the reasons I love community colleges that we take students were that we meet them where they are, and they come in from different backgrounds, they maybe have taken a long time, you know, maybe they've worked for a long time and come back, or they're coming back to school after many years of being out of school. So their math may not be up to snuff. I mean, if I took a placement test right now, in a math, it probably tells me I need to go back to kindergarten. Speaker 2 Me too. I wouldn't pass driver's ed. Speaker 3 I mean, I don't even want to take it because I don't want to know, I mean, English, I'd probably do. Okay, let's hope. But so we have folks coming back from, you know, a long hiatus from education. We have students that come maybe have a disability or learning issue. We have probably some school districts in Connecticut that are not, you know, rigorous enough or not teaching, you know or graduating students without the credentials they need. I don't want to make it's no one's actual fault. It's just I think that there's gaps, and I know, at each, you know, we we, at the community college level, we try to, again, meet students where they are, because that's our that's what we do is that as a community college, so there are a lot of coursework. There's a lot of coursework in remedial education, because we need to get those students, you know, up to speed on their academics. That sounds wonderful.


Andrea Goodrich  26:31  

Yeah. Is it affordable? Like for me, financing was always an obstacle for education. Well,


Jamie French  26:38  

yeah. In fact, it's interesting that you say that because we have what they call the PACT Program. Mm hmm. And I don't don't please don't ask me for what that stands for. Because I don't know.


Andrea Goodrich  26:48  

Okay, as soon as I said it


Jamie French  26:51  

on, like, Oh, crap. Oh, I don't know if I can say that. Speaker 2 Yes you can.   Speaker 3 Okay. Speaker 2 Wait, the word crap? Speaker 3 Yes. Yeah. Speaker 2 You absolutely can say the word crap. Laugher. Speaker 3 Okay, good. Speaker 1 Yeah. I'll leave it.


Andrea Goodrich  27:09  

So yes, so we have.


Jamie French  27:10  

students apply for financial aid, and whatever financial aid doesn't cover the  PACT program will, so essentially, people can go to community college for free, hopefully, that'll continue to be the case. But I know a lot of folks get, you know, if they don't get full financial aid they're getting, there's a huge amount of scholarships that the Foundation offers. A lot of people do their first two years of their bachelor's degree at a community college because it is so good. It's such a great value. And a lot of our a lot of our professors are adjunct professors. So they teach at our college, but they also go over to Southern and teach, and there's some teach at Yale and some go to Alberta. So you're getting faculty that are teaching it all of the other, more expensive institutions. So it's a really great deal.


Andrea Goodrich  27:57  

That's fantastic. Well, Jeremiah, I know I kind of took over there with those questions, but it really kind of piqued my interest. and I realized, oooh Speaker 1 those were good, though. Speaker 2 We forgot to ask some really important questions for our listeners. Should I hand you the baton?


Jeremiah Barrett  28:09  

Yeah, you can hand wait we can go back and forth. We're cohosts. We're supposed to go back and forth so (laughter) . Right. So another question I have is what is one common myth about your profession or field that you want to debunk?


Jamie French  28:23  

Hmm, I thought about that all weekend. Okay. I think there's a few things. One of the things that came up recently in the discussion was the idea of fairness. And I think that fairness is not equal, that everything, everybody doesn't get the equal amount. Fairness means you get what you need. I think that makes sense. I know, looks, so I like to look at people. And I'd like to talk with people find out what they need. And within reason, it's what you know, allows allow that to happen for someone. And in our program. We do this all the time where we have a program, but we also make it individualized as much as we can. We can't do we you know, it's not one on one, but it certainly is we every student comes in with a different need and a different background. And we tweak things all the time, where, you know, we we allow certain things and we move things around because we realize that's, that's that's what we need to do. And the program is small enough where we can do that. Does it mean that everybody gets the same thing? No it doesn't. We look at each person and determine. So I think that's something and I and I don't know, but I had brought that up to a colleague of mine. And she said, that seems like something that is very common in the K through 12. system, this idea of fairness and everybody getting the same and I don't wanna rip on your K through 12 people but sometimes I think that's not that's a that's a myth. That doesn't happen in life.


Andrea Goodrich  29:49  

No, even raising children. I mean, if you look at the family model, you know, sometimes siblings feel like well, how come she gets to stay up later than me? Well, she can get up early. She doesn't need as much sleep. You on the other hand over sleep. So you need to go to bed earlier, you know, and that's an example of fair doesn't mean equal. Right. Right. Fairness usually best for each person, right? That was a hard lesson to learn.


Jamie French  30:13  

Mm hmm. Yeah. Yep. Also, to go back to what I had said earlier, that failure and allowing people the dignity of risk is something I really feel strongly about. I don't want...Speaker 2 Oh I love that, the dignity


Andrea Goodrich  30:25  

of risk. I want a bumper sticker that says that. 


Jamie French  30:28  

Yah? You know, I just feel like because somebody has a disability doesn't mean they shouldn't take risks and feel like they can stretch, you know, and I feel as though sometimes, when folks work with people with disabilities, they want to smooth the path. Okay, let's make sure there's no problems, let's guarantee that they're going to feel successful. Well, I would love everyone to feel successful, but we can't. We all have to work at it. And we all have to hit those potholes and bumps. And then the success is much sweeter. I think if you work for it, and you have to do a little bit of, you know, go through some of that adversity, I don't feel like putting artificial barriers or making people have to go through hoops is the way to do it. But I think that everybody deserves to have that challenge. And I think during I don't know, if Jeremiah, you're at our orientation this year, I'm not meaning to call you out if you weren't Speaker 1 No,  I was. Speaker 3 Were you there? Speaker 1 Yeah. Speaker 3 You know, I had I had read  something to the parents and to the students that said, if we keep the bar high, then then the outcomes are better. You know, and there's research to support that. If you give people a rigorous education, they will rise to the occasion. And so I feel as though we've always got a you know, whenever a student comes in, I look at their, you know, hear what their team is saying. And I said, well stand back and let them let them go. Because we see some amazing things. People reinvent themselves when they come to Gateway and Step Forward, and I'm not going to stand in their way.


Andrea Goodrich  32:01  

You know, I love what you said about how you have professors that are adjuncts that also teach at more prestigious universities. And I think that debunks a myth that I encountered when I taught at Tunxis Community College, I think a lot of people think less of community colleges, that they're less rigorous, and that the teachers who teach there aren't are good teachers. And, and that's just not true. You know, you could have somebody that has a wealth of knowledge and passion. And so I am really glad you mentioned that, because I think that can be a myth. Yes, absolutely.


Jeremiah Barrett  32:31  

I this is kind of like this is like really funny, because this one's related to this one. We're just talking about what is your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it?


Andrea Goodrich  32:39  

Oh, good segue, Jeremiah.


Jamie French  32:42  

Yeah, I thought about that a lot at home too. Are they gonna have time for this? No, it's like I, you know, I feel like as you get older, you know, your failures become less. You know, you're just like, yeah, I remember that. Yeah. But I don't I you know, I don't know. I think that's it. That was really hard for me to answer. I think, my biggest I don't want to say it's a failure. But I want to say it was my biggest if I could have a do over, that's maybe that's a better way to say it, I would have taken more time and more taking more thought as to what I did as an undergraduate. I think I would have slowed down. And I would have thought a little bit more about where I wanted to be because I went to college, right after high school, I went from a small town to a large city to a big university, and I got lost. And I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I kind of thought I did and I just and I ended up transferring back to, you know, going back home and transferring to the four year university near me, and it was just kind of like, I felt like I was going through the motions. And I really wish that I could have stopped and said, Wait a minute, I don't have to do this right now. Or I can do this right now. But I need to do this in my own way and figure this out a bit better work out some of these things I'm having trouble with. And I think that is because there's this sense of okay, you you're you graduate high school, now you go get your four year degree, then you do this, and there's this sort of like prescription here that you'd follow. And yeah, I didn't fit. And that's why I love what I do. Because the community college is full of people who don't know what they want to do, or they are they may know exactly what they want to do. But there's this sort of feeling of flexibility and not everybody's doing the same thing. Whereas when you go to a four year traditional four year college and you live in the dorm, it's like, I'm a sophomore, I'm a freshman. And you know, when you go to Gateway, it's like, I'm a Gateway Student, you know, it's a lot less structured and a lot less, you know, putting you on a path that you may or may not be ready for. So for me, I think that would have been kind of a thing I'd like to do over but then I think if I didn't do that and have the feelings I do now then I wouldn't be where I am now. So if that makes any sense.


Jeremiah Barrett  34:49  

Speaker 2 Absolutely Speaker 1 That makes sense. 


Andrea Goodrich  34:51  

I love that. I would have to say if I could have a do over it's the same thing. I followed the path that I thought was expected of me and that every one else did you go to college? You get a job, you find a husband, you get married, you have kids. You work. And then you die.


Jamie French  35:07  

Yeah. Speaker 2! It doesn't have to be that way at all!  Speaker 3 Right. Right.


Andrea Goodrich  35:10  

Speaker 1 Yeah. Speaker 2 I wish I had done a lot more traveling. Speaker 3 Hmm. Speaker 2 Anyhow.


Jeremiah Barrett  35:13  

Next question. Oh. Speaker 2, Go ahead, you're up. Speaker 1 My next question is  what are you most proud of? Is there anything that you're very proud of? Oh, wow.


Jamie French  35:23  

I think, you know, I'm most proud of I'm very, very proud of the program that I run the Step Forward Program, I'm immensely proud of that. And but I am also I think the, the best job I've ever done is be a mom, I think that's what I'm most proud of is that I have a really successful son who just graduated college and started a master's degree. And then I have two great stepchildren. So one is going to graduate high school and one's going to, you know, just finishing up his sophomore year. So I feel like that's been my best accomplishment. That's my hardest job. But just being able to raise some quality human beings is pretty cool. Speaker 2 Indeed!


Jeremiah Barrett  36:06  

And my last, I guess, two questions are kind of like fun ones. So if you had...if you could have a superpower, what would it be?


Jamie French  36:13  

Hmm. If I could have a superpower it would be to not doubt myself and to live in the moment. So I guess that's kind of two superpowers. But what I tend to have, what tends to happen to me is I get worried about what ifs and if I could just go in there and go, You know what, this is going to work cuz I want it to work, then I would feel pretty powerful. Speaker 2 I like that.


Jeremiah Barrett  36:35  

That's a good answer. And then like, my second question is, if you could have coffee and chat with anyone living or dead, who would it be?


Jamie French  36:45  

Wow, you know, Speaker 2 Santa Claus.


Andrea Goodrich  36:47  

I hope Laughter. I want to hot chocolate with Santa


Jamie French  36:54  

well, right? That one trip me up too. I was  like, wow, I you know what, I'm afraid to have coffee with somebody who I admire because what if they're, what if they're a jerk, you know, like that, that always bothered me. Speaker 1 Yeah. Speaker 3  You know, my husband took me to see my favorite author, my favorite author is Joyce Carol Oates, and she was speaking at Yale. And I was like, This is so cool. Like, I want to go see her. And she she talked. I'm like, Oh, thank God. He's like, what? Because I said, she's not a jerk. So I can continue to read her books. Yeah, I don't. I don't really have like, I mean, I would love to meet her. I would love to meet Oliver Sacks who writes all these Speaker 2 Ohhh, me too. Speaker 3  great books about neurodiversity and in.  I really


Andrea Goodrich  37:38  

like you Jamie.  I could totally be your friend. Do you have purpole hair? On the camera. Looks like you have purple highlights, which is something I did this summer like, wow, this lady's really cool. She's just like me!


Jamie French  37:54  

yeah, I yeah, that I can't think of anyone. Oh, you know, what I love. You know, who I really do love is Barack Obama. Speker 2 Me too!  I could listen to him talk all day. You know, because I just thought, you know, this guy is kind, you know, he's smart and kind Speaker 2 and I love Michelle too. Speaker 3 Yeah, and I love the fact that I guess he would come home and talk to his family and talk about the rose in the roses  and the thorns. You know, you had a day full of roses or you might have had some thorns in it. And also I think you know, he would be kind of neat to have coffee with (laughter).


Andrea Goodrich  38:32  

Do you know I read that before he would give a speech he would listen to Eminem's song you know the song about failure and I used to do that too and I was like wow, I can't believe he's admitting that. Like, I do the same thing. Speaker 1 Was the song called "Lose yourself?"  . Speaker 2 Yes, I love that song. I always use it to like boost my you know, motivation and make me believe anything is possible.


Jeremiah Barrett  38:54  

So thank you, Jamie French for coming on. I really appreciate this. 


Jamie French  38:59  

Speaker 3 Oh, this is so much fun. 


Andrea Goodrich  39:04  

Tell us how listeners can find you because you might get a whole bunch of new people that are interested in your program.


Jeremiah Barrett  39:10  

Yeah, like maybe people want to like work with Stop Forward. Like, how can they reach  out?


Jamie French  39:15  

Yeah, so the best way to get to me is to go on the Gateway website And you can go under Step Forward has you know a little link to click or you can put me in the search bar to Step Forward or Jamie French and it will come up. We're located in downtown New Haven on 20 Church Street and we're right near the New Haven Green, a beautiful area of New Haven where you can eat all those cool at those cool restaurants and be in the thick of things, so that's that's the best way to get a hold of me.


Andrea Goodrich  39:49  

Okay, great. We'll definitely put that in the show notes.


Jeremiah Barrett  39:51  

Yes, definitely. And thanks for listening. Oh, okay. Wait, what do you say? Sorry


Jamie French  39:58  

I was just gonna ask you where How your listeners find you?


Jeremiah Barrett  40:02  

Oh, yeah,


Andrea Goodrich  40:03  

Se, we haven't launched yet. Yeah. Okay. But once we do, which will be very soon, probably within the next two weeks. Yeah. So yeah, well, we can be found in a couple of places. Jeremiah, do you want to tell our listeners about the Instagram and YouTube? And then I'll tell them


Jeremiah Barrett  40:20  

Yeah, remember we have a website. It's like Chats with 2 Dyslexics you have to  use the number two. And then we have an Instagram. And we have a YouTube channel that we're going to be uploading some clips and stuff. And then we're planning on other things, too. So we're still discussing it, and we we're really excited to like connect and like meet different people. So


Andrea Goodrich  40:41  

you know the website though I wanted to just clarify, it started out as chats with two dyslexics. But then, at the same time, I was launching my own new business, and it's So if you want to find the podcast right now, on the podcast page, there's a link within my business page. So that's And the reason I did it that way was I wanted people to that came to my website to be able to learn more about me by meeting Jeremiah, and all of the wonderful guests that we will be interviewing because a lot of people with disabilities, including us have struggled with feeling a disconnect with others and feeling lost. And that's what Chats with 2 Dyslexics is all about. We won't just be focusing on dyslexia, but we're showing how people can overcome any obstacle no matter who they are, or where they are on their journey through this life. And we want to offer people messages of hope. And that failure is okay, and that there are people out there that will help you through your struggles. So that's what we're hoping to offer with our podcast. I know the titles kind of misleading. That's why in our artwork, we put human interest stories, because we really want to talk to people who are open and honest and willing to tell their stories and we're hoping that they will inspire others to tell theirs, you know, by coming on our show. Great. So, yeah, we're just gonna say thanks for listening. And to all our listeners. We'll see you next time.


Jeremiah Barrett  42:15  

Okay, goodbye. Thank you for listening, and make sure to follow us on Instagram and YouTube.


Andrea Goodrich  42:21  

Now, before you go, listeners, you can follow us right now, in the app you're using to listen to this episode, you can support us on Patreon. And for a recap of today's episode, you can view the complete show notes at Don't forget to use the number two. See you next time listeners


Transcribed by

Jaime FrenchProfile Photo

Jaime French

Director of the Step Forward Program at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut

Jaime French, Step Forward program director at Gateway Community College, has been appointed to the Connecticut Transition Task Force (TTF) Membership Committee. The TTF directly supports the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) in its efforts to guide students with disabilities, families, schools, and state and community organizations to facilitate the students’ transition to post-school activities. French brings a wealth of experience to her appointment; she’s headed Step Forward, the only transition program in Connecticut run by a community college, for 16 years.

Specifically, the TTF Membership Committee ensures that the TTF is comprised of a variety of stakeholders across Connecticut and its agencies. While French hasn’t served on the committee until now, she’s worked with a majority of stakeholders all along.

Step Forward I is a 10-month transition program for young adults with mild cognitive disabilities. The curriculum focuses on interpersonal communication, daily living skills, college readiness, and workplace readiness. Students who move into Step Forward II take courses for college credit, and the expectations are higher. To learn more visit or email