Campus School photos by Tony Rinaldo; portraits by Lee Pellegrini

There is much to celebrate at the half-century mark of the Campus School at Boston College: the education of some 2,500 special needs students in a “culture of care,” based on the philosophy that all are capable of learning; ground-breaking adaptive technology developed by BC faculty members to support its curriculum; the establishment of a thriving undergraduate volunteer program, and other hallmarks.

The vibrant story of the Campus School, which opened in 1970 with 20 students, is documented in a new history book to commemorate its 50th anniversary. Its treatment by principal authors Phil DiMattia and Don Ricciato—both former directors who have been associated with the school since its beginnings—is both heartfelt and illuminative.

Phil DiMattia

Phil DiMattia

Don Ricciato

Don Ricciato

Among the first of its kind in Massachusetts, the school, situated in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Campion Hall, educates students ages three to 21 with multiple disabilities, including complex health care needs.  

“For 50 years, the Campus School has provided equal education opportunities to students whose special needs could not be met in public school programs,” the authors said. “Today, the program’s highly specialized services tailored to individual student needs enable all its students, who have severe and multiple disabilities, to develop to their full potential.”

At nearly 300 pages, The Boston College Campus School Story, 1970–2020, takes a deep dive into the school’s genesis, vision, and evolution, and highlights the work of the Campus School in its golden anniversary.

Campus School teaching

It is a school for “some of society’s most needy and disadvantaged members,” the authors write. Since its inception, the Campus School has worked collaboratively with families and school districts so that students receive responsive educational and related services. School staff utilize a transdisciplinary collaborative approach and strive to ensure that all students have active and meaningful participation in all aspects of the program, they note. Students have access to the curriculum in a communication-rich environment, to attain skills necessary to lead engaged, enriched lives.

A number of achievements during the Campus School’s evolution are highlighted in the book, such as the building of an inclusive playground and the establishment of programs including Best Buddies, Creative Kids, Campus School Volunteers of Boston College, and Supported Employment.

Also documented is the school’s collaboration with faculty and engagement in research. A prime example is the EagleEyes Project—an award-winning initiative of the Carroll School of Management, Computer Science Department, and Campus School—which enables individuals with severe physical disabilities, most of whom cannot speak and can move only their eyes or heads, to access computers. The project has been significant in facilitating the “hidden curriculum,” which fosters increased self-esteem and empowerment through personal expression.

Campus School buddies

The history includes many testimonials from parents of students, staff members, student volunteers past and present, and teachers. These “poignant reflections capture what is special about the Campus School and its impact on their lives,” according to the authors. “The number of BC undergraduates whose student formation was impacted by their involvement is incalculable. They often cite that their experience was life altering.”

When asked what was most meaningful to them about this project, DiMattia and Ricciato responded: “The opportunity to reflect on the important and noble work of the Campus School staff members over the decades that has made a difference in the lives of students and their families, as well as the commitment of Boston College in supporting the mission of the program. Additionally, the benefit of the involvement of the many undergraduate volunteers and the collaboration with faculty and staff, from departments across campus, was a truly unique aspect of the program.”

Contributors to the book include John Eichorn, who chaired the then-School of Education’s special education division and, with DiMattia, was the school’s principal founder; Rev. Charles F. Donovan S.J., then-dean of the School of Education; and now-retired Lynch School professor Penny Hauser-Cram. Published independently, the book is available on Amazon in paperback and electronic versions:

Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | March 2021