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Professor Profile: Don Ricciato

Director of BC's Campus School Sees Past Disabilities

For The Heights

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

As most Boston College students lined Commonwealth Avenue to cheer along the runners on Marathon Monday, many runners were doing so for the Campus School. Roughly 300 students ran the marathon in support of the Campus School, and together raised over $58,000. The Campus School, a BC program which educates Boston-area students ages 3-21 who have multiple disabilities, and often complex health care needs, is a well-run and popular volunteer opportunity for students, thanks in large part to its director, Don Ricciato.

Ricciato has been a mainstay at BC for over 40 years. He received an undergraduate degree in 1971 and a masters degree in special education in 1973, both from BC. A native of Massachusetts, Ricciato originally hails from Waltham. His time at BC has been spent embodying the Jesuit philosophy of helping others. 

Ricciato is currently in his fifth year as the director of BC’s Campus School. The school serves the needs of roughly 45 special-needs students, who are helped by about 350 active student volunteers. Ricciato himself began volunteering his time to the Campus School while earning his masters degree, and has remained an integral part of the program since.

Ricciato’s history with the program has given him a great perspective on its evolution over time. According to Ricciato, a great impetus of change for the program came in 1975 with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which mandated that all public schools provide equal access to education for students with physical and mental disabilities. Before the act, special needs students were generally either sent to separate schools, committed, or simply kept at home. According to Ricciato, “early on, the emphasis was just on how to care for these children, but afterwards the spirit became one of inclusion where we strived for active participation in society by the special needs students.”

Ricciato himself did not envision a career at the Campus School prior to volunteering during his postgraduate studies. “I was intrigued by the program, which gave equal balance to education and therapeutic health care for these students.” After receiving his masters, he began doing administrative work for the Campus School in the 1970s. Since then, he has continued to work for the Campus School.

Ricciato has not only been an administrator, though. He is also an active professor in the Lynch School. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses on special education, and is currently teaching “Working with Special Needs Students,” a core course for LSOE students. “I love teaching the course. And it also has draws students from CSOM, Arts and Sciences, and Connell who see how important and rewarding it is.” 

The Campus School, however, remains Ricciato’s primary responsibility, a charge he enjoys. “My favorite part of watching the student volunteers each year is when they see beyond the disability. They stop seeing as just special needs kids, but real individuals with real talents and real abilities.” The Campus School is recognized nationally as being among the top programs of its kind, and recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. At the celebration, 140 former students returned along with former volunteers and full-time workers. 

Ricciato is also involved in running BC’s Supported Employment Program, which provides job opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities (participants are commonly employed in BC’s dining halls). The program began in 1987 as a partnership with Children’s Hospital Boston; and it manifests Ricciato’s goal of active participation in society for those with special needs. “The Supported Employment Program is an uncommon one among universities, which says a lot about the character of Boston College.” Currently, the program employs 24 adults and has in the past employed former students of the Campus School.

Despite the laudable success of the Campus School, Ricciato is quick to defer credit. “We have had an incredible staff here at the Campus School since the beginning … everyone is dedicated to going beyond just doing a job.” Ricciato tends to discuss the experiences of students in the Campus School, rather than his own role. The efficacy and popularity of the school is made apparent by the longevity of the enrollments of most students there. On average, students spend five to seven years at the school, and one recent graduate attended all the way from age 3 to age 21.

Ricciato’s commitment to the program is evident from both his description of his work, and the success of the program itself. His embodiment of the Jesuit philosophy is a model for all students. n

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