Intellectually disabled join campus community

This year is the first year in the College’s history that students with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to learn on campus.

Six students have this opportunity because of the College’s Career and Community Studies (CCS) program, a program designed to give students with intellectual disabilities a chance for postsecondary education.

The six CCS students began the program with orientation on Aug. 28 and are currently taking classes on campus. John Russo, a CCS student, said that he likes both his classes and the campus, and that the program is fun.

Joey Clawson, a fellow CCS student, agreed. “It’s cool to know faces on campus,” he said.

Dr. Jerry Petroff, co-director of CCS, is “more than thrilled” about CCS. “I don’t see why this can’t work,” he said. “And we’re out to prove that.”

CCS is funded by a grant from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). The grant is for $50,000 a year for three years, starting in September 2005.

Although the grant was pushed forward by NDSS, the funds are from a personal grant given by Barnes & Noble, Inc. CEO Steve Riggio and his wife Laura, who have a teenage daughter with Down Syndrome.

The idea to start the CCS program at the College came from Professor Rebecca Daley, CCS program coordinator, and Dr. Rick Blumberg, CCS co-director, when they both served on a steering committee started by NDSS.

Postsecondary education is “something that’s emerging in the field of disability,” Daley said.

Petroff agreed. “Everybody deserves the right to continue learning and to have the college experience,” he said.

About a year after sitting on the committee, Daley, Blumberg and Petroff developed a grant proposal to NDSS. Once they received the grant, they had one year to set everything up for the program.

The first year was spent coordinating the infrastructure, such as setting up an advisory committee, developing an application and interview process, deciding on what basis the program would accept or not accept an applicant and introducing the campus to the idea that intellectually disabled students would be coming.

In order to spread information about CCS, Daley, Blumberg and Petroff met with the Student Government Association (SGA), spoke in front of both the faculty and student senates and tried to talk about the program to other professors as well as with students. In addition, an open house was held last March for professors and other members of the community to learn about the program.

The next step for the program is to find professors who are willing to integrate students with disabilities into their classes.

“(There are) lots of classes on campus that could be possible,” Daley said. “We just have to reach out to faculty to make that happen.”

According to Blumberg, “everyone has been enthusiastically supportive.” Some professors already began to involve CCS students in their classes, and “other faculty have expressed an interest in working with us,” he said. They also received support from the dean of the School of Education, Dr. William Behre, as well as College President R. Barbara Gitenstein.

In addition to support from the faculty, students have also been supportive. “I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for this program, and it came from the (College) students,” Daley said.

Kelly Allen, a mentor for CCS students, agreed. “Everyone on campus has been really supportive and welcoming,” she said.

Daley believes the program will be successful not only for the students in CCS, but for the College’s students as well, who can apply to be mentors for the students with disabilities. “I think it’s going to work well for our students at (the College) in terms of giving them opportunities to be mentors and (working) with people with disabilities,” she said.

“I believe that this program will be successful because of the student mentors (who) are volunteering their time to support our students as they become part of the (College) community,” Blumberg said.

According to Allen, “It’s a great opportunity for (College) students and CCS students.”

In the future, CCS will continue to accept six students a year. The students will be at the College for four years, and will pay student fees, similar to tuition. When the grant runs out, student fees will sustain the program.

A typical day for a CCS student runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to the CCS Web site. In addition to taking classes at the College, students will have the opportunity participate in internships.

At the end of four years, CCS is expected to have given its students increased maturity, more opportunity for independent living and social skills. The students will go through “the same types of positive changes . that every freshman goes through,” Daley said.

According to Blumberg, “I see our students having the same variety of social and academic experiences that other (College) students enjoy.”