There has been a quiet, but growing movement taking place in the world of post-secondary education. Thanks to demand from students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, and the support of a federal initiative, there are an increasing number of post-secondary education programs that allow individuals with I/DD to have a college experience. Today many more young people are living their dream of going to college!
Think College! is the joint effort of several federally funded projects. It is focused on promoting post-secondary education (PSE) as a choice for adults and transition-aged youth with intellectual disabilities across the nation. In 2009 Think College! conducted a survey of existing PSE programs and identified 149 programs located in 37 states. Today there are at least 212 programs, with 9 located here in North Carolina!
The Think College! website has a wealth of information about PSE programs, evidence-based practices, research findings and related resources. Think College! also provides training and technical assistance for parents, self-advocates, educators, administrators, legislators and others who play key roles in developing and supporting additional high quality PSE programs. Learn more at: www.thinkcollege.net
The Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) coordinates the North Carolina Post-Secondary Education Alliance (PSEA), a diverse group of stakeholders who have a mission to expand the PSE options for individuals with I/DD in North Carolina. The PSEA webpage has information and links for those interested in creating new programs as well as information on the existing programs. There are currently programs at 5 community colleges: Alamance, Central Piedmont, Cleveland, Randolph, and Western Piedmont. There are also programs housed at Appalachian State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Western Carolina University.
Visit the PSEA homepage at: www.cidd.unc.edu/psea In addition to information about “the Alliance” and its activities, you will find links to comprehensive information about each North Carolina program. For an easy side-by-side comparison, there is also an “At-a-Glance” document that uses a grid format to provide some key information. Thanks to the PSEA, information about post-secondary options for students with I/DD is now also available on the College Foundation of North Carolina website: www.cfnc.org, a central information source for all students who are thinking about college. Now we are playing on the big stage!
If you have, or know of, a young person with I/DD who may be interested in going to college after they leave school, be sure to discuss this with their teacher and IEP team. The student’s transition component, and other parts of the IEP, can be developed to help prepare the student for a successful PSE experience. Focus on the hard and soft skills that will be needed on campus, in the workplace and community, and for independent living. Many of these programs also work with adults who have already been out of school for a while, but some have a special focus on those who are in the process of making the transition to adulthood. Contact any program that you have interest in to get more information, sooner rather than later. That’s how you begin to turn a dream into a goal, and then into reality!
We sometimes get calls from parents of high school students that are concerned that their child is doing poorly in school for one reason or another, and as we try to get to the root of the problem, we may ask the parent what classes the student is taking. I am dismayed, but no longer surprised, by the number of parents who cannot answer that question. If parents don’t know the courses that their child is taking during a given semester, then it very likely that they also don’t have a good understanding of where the child stands with regard to meeting the requirements to graduate with a diploma.
In North Carolina there are two courses of study (COS) that lead to a high school diploma: the Future-Ready Core Course of Study and the Future-Ready Occupational Course of Study (OCS). Each COS has it’s own specific set of requirements, which must be met completely before the student will be able to receive a diploma. The decision about which COS is the most appropriate for a particular student is usually made late in the 8th grade year, and parents need to ask as many questions as necessary to understand what will be expected of their child. But that’s just the beginning!
Parents and students should periodically check to see which graduation requirements have been met and which are still outstanding. In most schools, the guidance counselors will meet with each student at least once a year, especially as courses are being selected for the following year. What’s surprising to many parents is that a lot of schools do not routinely involve parents in this process. The parent may have to initiate contact with the counselor and ask to have an unofficial transcript sent home, or maybe schedule a face-to-face meeting with the counselor to see where things stand. Every school system will have it’s graduation requirements available on it’s website and in any high school planning guide that they may publish (you may have to ask for a copy in order to get one).
Think about how much time the student has left in school, and which courses have to be taken before the student will be allowed to take a needed, or desired, course (those are called “prerequisites”). Are there any tests or projects that are stand-alone graduation requirements? If your child plans to go to college, are they taking the courses that will meet the college or university’s admission requirements? Is the student taking, but failing course after course, ending up with very few credits toward graduation? Are they taking remedial courses that they pass, but only count as elective credits? Is the student taking career-technical classes that have nothing to do with their career goal or area of interest? If the student is on the OCS, do they have the required number of hours for each type of work experience? If not, what’s the plan for accomplishing by the time graduation is expected? Who can help with this?
In some cases, parents and students have made a 5-year plan for high school, only to be told that the student MUST graduate at the end of four years. When this happens, there has often been inadequate planning for the student’s transition to adulthood and nothing is in place to support them once they leave school. Spacing the required courses out over a longer period of time can buy the student more time to work on transition goals, further develop their skills, and have experiences that will give them a better chance for success as an adult.
The bottom line is that parents need to stay on top of their student’s progress throughout the high school years. There is a High School Planner available at www.cfnc.org that can help parents and students keep track of graduation requirements that have been, or still need to be met. A similar tool may be available through the high school. Once again, the guidance counselor will be the key contact for this entire process. Establishing a good working relationship with that counselor can only work in your child’s best interest, so it’s well worth the effort.