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College Spirit: Tower grantees making campus more welcoming to students with learning and developmental challenges

2016-March 22

Nick Randell, Program Officer


     One of the study spaces created for Villa
     Maria College's Achieve Program

Over the last couple of years we have seen more colleges and universities ramping up their supports for students with disabilities. A half dozen or so recent Tower grants have gone towards support of these efforts. We've already blogged about a couple of them.*  Think College is a program of the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston. It is national in scope and promotes the broadest possible expansion of college and university access to people with intellectual disabilities. There are now 240 or so recognized university-based programs, but room for many more.  Our grant to Think College is in the form of a local match for a US Department of Education Innovation Fund (i3) grant. They are testing the effectiveness of a program model that enrolls students with intellectual disabilities in college while they are still in high school.  Students are supported in both academic and career development pursuits.

We've also blogged about programs at North Shore Community College in Lynn, MA. The College and Career Access Program delivers a mix of classroom instruction and internships to prepare young people with disabilities for jobs in horticulture and canine/feline care.


Following are brief profiles of several newer Tower grants that involve supports for young people with learning and attention issues.

Salem State serves a diverse student population of about 10,000.  A Tower grant supports expanded staffing in the Disabilities Services Office to better support students with print-based disabilities.  A new coordinator now manages access to alternative texts (like text-to-speech versions of textbooks), provides training and outreach for students and faculty, and maintains contact with alternative text publishers and technology providers.

Villa Maria, of all the colleges in Western New York, has the largest percentage of students with learning disabilities.  Last fall, the college launched the Achieve Program to provide rigorous support of students with learning challenges.  They remodeled 1,200 s.f. of space and dedicated it to the program for tutoring rooms, quiet study and test-taking, program offices, and common areas.  The space is calming, with soft color tones and indirect lighting.  14 students are enrolled so far and benefit from regular tutorial sessions, help with note-taking and organizational skills, and workshops to develop a range of personal skills and self-advocacy.

Daemen College, a liberal arts college in Amherst, NY, has developed a program to support students in its Visual and Performing Arts program with a focus on students on the autism spectrum.  A number of majors at Daemen, like animation, are attractive to young people on the spectrum.  Daemen's program includes life skills coaching, faculty awareness training, and peer mentoring.  Participating students receive coaching on time management, scheduling, and study habits. To make studios and instructional space a less stressful environment, they have been modified with saturated wall colors, privacy screens, and sound dampening.

A Tower grant supports the expansion of Eye to Eye, a national mentoring program, to four area colleges.  Eye to Eye links college students with learning challenges (like dyslexia and ADHD) to middle school students that have similar diagnoses.  The college students mentor the younger kids through an arts-based afterschool program.   The mentors model academic and college success and teach self-confidence and self-advocacy to their younger charges.  Eye to Eye establishes official college chapters, and the college students that participate get to become part of the larger Eye to Eye network and enjoy opportunities to grow into leadership roles. Buffalo State College and Daemen College were the first area schools to host Eye to Eye chapters.  Two additional schools will get on board this fall.


* Blog Post | Think COLLEGE! -- 2015-JULY 23

* Blog Post | College and Career Access Project (CCAP) at North Shore Community College -- 2014-August 27

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