This fall, the Colleges offered a first-of-its-kind course focusing on individuals with disabilities during the time of their transition from high school to the adult world. The course, “Transition and Disability: Life After High School” was an inclusive class, comprised of students from both HWS and the Ontario ARC College Experience program. Of the 25 students in class, eight were developmentally disabled.
The Finger Lakes Times featured this course at the end of the semester. The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
College Experience more inclusive with new class
Heather Swanson • December 1, 2010
GENEVA – A new college class is offering young people with disabilities the chance for a more interactive and empowering look at their futures.
Hobart and William Smith assistant professor of education Mary Kelly is teaching a course this semester titled “Transition and Disability: Life After High School.”
Ontario ARC has been partnering with the Colleges for a few years through the College Experience program, offering high school graduates with disabilities the chance to audit college classes and complete internships.
But Kelly wanted to create a course that offered a more participatory experience.
There are 25 students in the class, which focuses on what becomes of students with disabilities after they finish high school. Of the 25, eight are College Experience students and 17 are Hobart and William Smith students.
Though some College Experience students were actively involved in the courses they were auditing, Kelly said, others were not.
“I really wanted to figure out how we could be more inclusive in terms of how we teach,” said Kelly.
Her decision to make the class about transition, she said, was made in part because there is little focus on that subject as it relates to young people with disabilities, and in part because she felt the transition to an independent life was something matriculated students could also relate to.
In an effort to keep the course interactive and student-driven, Kelly said, she focuses on group work and socializing.
“We had lunch together once a month, which was really great for community-building,” said Kelly.
Giving the students a chance to get to know one another socially helped the students participate actively in class.
“If you don’t know people, you kind of hesitate to reach out,” she explained.
Her methods proved successful: “The class really just bonded, so it’s been an amazing semester to be part of,” said Kelly.
A focus of the course is employment options for young people with disabilities, which ARC College Experience student Robert Quinn Jr. said has been a high point for him.
Quinn, who graduated from Midlakes High School in 2006, called the material “interesting” and said he has hopes of working for a school someday.
“I love that it’s given students a chance to really dream,” Kelly said.
Sarah Austin, a College Experience student from Gananda, said one of the things that makes Transition & Disability her favorite college course is the opportunity to meet HWS students.
“I get to meet the new students who I haven’t met before,” she said.
Austin said that while she is normally too shy to speak up in class, that hasn’t been the case this time.
“I was comfortable,” she explained. “It’s just a lot of fun and I enjoy it.”
Rachel Miers of Waterloo graduated from high school in 2010 and is a new participant in the College Experience program. She agreed that the HWS students have helped make the course a rewarding experience.
“They’re funny,” she said. “They make me laugh; at times I make them laugh.”
Senior Nora Devine-Carter is one of the HWS students Austin and Miers work with. She came to HWS from Montclair, N.J., and is studying social justice and education.
“It just has been overall such a positive experience for everyone,” she said of the class, adding that what has impacted her the most is working “as peers with the people with disabilities in our class.”
She said that while she has plans to teach abroad after college, the Transition & Disability class has inspired her to consider another direction: Working with adults with disabilities.
Shirley Wells, Ontario ARC community habilitation assistant, said she believes the College Experience students have been learning more about themselves through the class.
“It makes them more mature,” she said, adding she feels they are striving to be “independent individuals.”
“I think it boosts their self-esteem,” added Becky Castano, ARC community habilitation specialist.