“Welcome to Angela Academy,” Angela Vittori announces to the three teenage girls in the Kerr group home she manages for youth experiencing intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). “If we have to stay home and do school work, let’s make it fun,” she exclaims.
Vittori and her staff have made a seamless shift from providing round-the-clock, essential care to also assuming the role of high school teacher. Even when everything is going well, their job is incredibly hard. “We are constantly juggling so many balls,” she says. “We have to somehow make everything work for three clients and all their medications, doctor’s orders, and behavioral challenges.”
On a good day, the daily challenges kids experiencing I/DD face can easily manifest into sudden, angry outbursts. So, imagine what it’s like when there’s a global pandemic. Vittori is constantly pouring herself into the lives of each teen in the home to best meet their needs. Two of the residents don’t have any family, they worry about what will happen to them if their caregivers can’t make it to work. “That’s a big deal,” Vittori states. “We need to be here because what will they do? Where will they go?”
When life as they knew it came to an abrupt halt, the teens didn’t understand why. Why couldn’t they go to school, see their friends, go shopping or out to eat? “Routine is so important for these kids, and now everything is completely upside down,” Vittori says.
Not missing a beat, Vittori grabbed the TV remote and explained how the pause button has been pressed on planet Earth. “I don’t know when they’re going to press play again,” she told them. “But, right now we’re on pause and I’m going to let you know when they press play again. I’m going to keep you very informed.”
They immediately understood her explanation, however it didn’t make them feel any less agitated. “They struggle with regulating their moods on a good day,” Vittori states. “And now, the only tools available to soothe them are video games, movies, and MP3 players.”
Then came Vittori’s lightbulb moment—Angela Academy—which includes everything from math and science to art and yoga. “They are going to get the best diploma of their lives by the time this is done,” she quips.
A master at discovering helpful resources, Vittori has a friend in New York who teaches step-by-step painting through online videos. “She gets on camera and says ‘here’s what color you need, here’s what brush you need’,” Vittori explains. “Even if you’re not an artist, you end up with an awesome painting.”
She is also introducing the girls to Shakespeare; helping them read and act out plays. “We’re getting creative,” she says. “Obviously I’m not a high school teacher, but I can instill positivity and fun.”
For science, one of the teens conjured up her own pie crust and pie recipe. “That’s Angela Academy,” Vittori remarks. “And, we’re gardening too.”
During this uncertain time, Vittori provides the teens with the consistency they desperately need. “They need me,” she says. “I know when they see me, they find comfort.”