Once completed, Diamond Deli will be located at the Peacock Market in Clovis and will be staffed exclusively by members of Diamond Learning Center. Photo contributed
Written by Ben Hensley
When the term “education” is brought up, many think school bells, recess, prom, graduation and the memories made throughout elementary school, middle and high school, and for some, college and beyond.
A basic education is fundamental to the development of a student, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. While many of us don’t even realize we’re learning social skills at a very young age, social development takes place in a child as early as four to six months, with continued skills developing as students progress through the different levels of learning.
But what happens when that development is hampered by something internal rather than external?
The founding of the Center
Jami De La Cerda founded the Diamond Learning Center in 2005, hoping to provide a space of learning and development to those living with learning and developmental disabilities. De La Cerda, who grew up in Canada prior to moving to the U.S., volunteered in special education classes and eventually earned her M.S. in special education.
Diamond Learning Center opened to provide a space for holistic education, incorporating not only students in their education, but their parents, family, friends and community as well.
“We believe that everything starts with respected dignity,” De La Cerda said. “If we feel comfortable and safe then we can be vulnerable.”
Diamond Learning Center’s students are each given their own timeline for their program, choosing classes that interest them. Ranging from fitness, sports and music to more “core” subjects such as history, science and money management, students can take up to three classes per day.
“Most of our students have between nine to 12 different classes [per week],” De La Cerda said, adding that each individual student’s timeline is based on their own personal journey. “We’ve had people come in and be with us for six months to a year and then gradually work into paid employment.”
Feeling the validation
Six months after opening the center, De La Cerda gave birth to twin boys, Samuel and Elijah.
Elijah was born with Down syndrome.
While many parents would be heartbroken and intimidated at the thought of raising a child with a learning disability, De La Cerda saw it not only as her responsibility (for which she was better equipped than most), but also as a sign that she had founded a center that Elijah could both thrive in and help grow.
“When my twins were born it was my stamp of approval that this was what I’m supposed to do,” De La Cerda said. “In my view, I gave birth to the main example of inclusive environment.”
And inclusion is what De La Cerda hopes all of the students at Diamond Learning Center eventually feel; many students go on to find employment both with the center and outside the center.
Elijah’s twin brother Samuel, who does not have Down syndrome, expressed his feelings of being “left out” in a book written with the help of his mother when he was 10. “Am I Invisible?” helped Samuel speak his side of the story in which, from a young age, Samuel has often felt overshadowed by his brother due to his disability — a factor forgotten about by much of the public.
Including both Samuel and Elijah as not only ambassadors for the center, but also as a living example of inclusion is what De La Cerda hopes the center continues to achieve — bringing a disenfranchised and largely forgotten population a voice and opportunity.
Elijah has also helped De La Cerda personify the differences between individuals and their needs.
“My son [Elijah] would be the kind of kid that you’d put in a program, and because he’s quiet and cute and cuddly he’s going to get put in a behavioral program and he’s going to get beat up because he doesn’t complain,” she said.
By working directly with parents of students — some of whom De La Cerda has known for decades, the Diamond Learning Center’s ability to adapt based on individual student needs is something that the center takes pride in.
Assisting in employment
The main goal of Diamond Learning Center is to spread opportunity for everyone, regardless of ability. Those opportunities, of course, include employment opportunities both with the center and outside.
“Employment is vitally important,” De La Cerda said. “I think our students have the same rights as everyone else — that you could go to school and keep learning and also have a job.”
Many students who have taken classes with the center have gone on to work directly with the center itself.
“That’s what we empower as well; not one or the other — you can do both,” she said.
Additionally, Diamond Learning Center will open their first off-site business later this year. The Diamond Deli
“If we want the community to hire our population then we also should be hiring them,” De La Cerda said. “They’re hired here at Diamond Learning Center, but we want to give that experience of a different type of employment.”
Located at the Peacock Market at 1427 Tollhouse Rd. in Clovis, the Diamond Deli hopes to provide opportunities for students from the Diamond Learning Center to fully operate a business.
The deli will be fully staffed by students at the center, and supervised by a center staff member, but will operate as a full-service deli. With plans to operate from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. initially, the deli hopes to see an opening in either late spring or early summer of this year.
Diamond Learning Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located at 20 N. Dewitt Ave in Clovis. More information can be found by visiting dlclife.org or by calling (559) 241-0580.