Program offers a college experience to intellectually and developmentally disabled students
KENNESAW, Ga. (April 18, 2013) — A Kennesaw State University program that enables students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to experience college life has received $50,000 in the FY 2014 Georgia General Assembly budget.
This is the first legislative appropriation received by the Academy for Inclusive Learning & Social Growth, which is housed in the University’s WellStar College of Health and Human Services.
When the final gavel fell on the 152ndlegislative session March 29, legislators had approved $100,000 in funding in support of inclusive post-secondary education for students with developmental disabilities, including $50,000 for Kennesaw State’s Academy and an additional $50,000 that will be used for the development of an inclusive post-secondary educational program at another USG institution.
“We are honored and grateful to receive this funding in support of inclusive post-secondary education,” said President Daniel S. Papp. “Diversity is an important part of Kennesaw State’s mission, and the Academy is a reflection of that. This support is an affirmation of the hard work and dedication of the Academy’s students and staff over the last four years.”
The Academy offers a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills so they can find jobs they want and become more independent.
“By having this college experience, students who may have been very shy, or a little awkward in social situations before, are suddenly integrated into the student body, and it changes their whole outlook on what they think their abilities are,” said WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Richard Sowell. “We are proud to be the standard bearers for inclusive post-secondary education in Georgia.”
Academy administrators are working on creating a replication manual because they are being called upon locally, nationally, and internationally, to provide consulting to other institutions interested in creating similar programs. According to Academy Director Ibrahim El Sawy, the Academy has received inquiries from as far away as the Middle East for such assistance.
"We are ready to work with any who wants to join us in this important initiative," he said.
The Academy is one of 250 programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in Georgia. At a capitol rally this winter supporting state funding for more programs like the Academy, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal praised Kennesaw State as a pioneer.
"(Kennesaw State University is) a forerunner of this in our higher educational institutions, and I believe it is a program that we can replicate throughout our entire university system," Deal said.
What makes Kennesaw State’s program standout from others across the country, however, is the extent of inclusivity. Not only do Academy students live on campus, there is an alumni association, a parents’ group and scholarship opportunities.
Diane Barker commutes 250 miles a day to bring her son, Casey, to Kennesaw State.
“If you put my son next to another 22-year-old at Kennesaw who is a typical student, the outside may look different, but he has every goal, vision and dream that the typical student has,” Barker said. “The biggest benefit of the program is providing him with a typical experience, where he is part of everybody else on the KSU campus. He’s not that young man with Down Syndrome.”
Where once society pigeon-holed persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities into jobs as grocery store clerks and fast food workers, Academy students dream of jobs working with children and professional athletes.
“Even though I have a disability, I can do normal things that regular college students can in their lifetimes,” said Academy student Faith Roman, who is studying early childhood education and hopes one day to work at a daycare. “I am living in the dorms and I love getting to be with new friends. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
--By Jennifer Hafer
Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering 80 graduate and undergraduate degrees, including doctorates in education, business and nursing, and a new Ph.D. in international conflict management. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive, residential institution with a growing population of 24,600 students from more than 130 countries.
In a commencement season full of firsts, friends, family and supporters of Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth celebrated a second – the graduation of its second cohort of students with intellectual disabilities.
“I can’t tell you how proud we are of our six fabulous graduates,” academy director Harry Stern said. “They have exceeded everyone’s expectations, including their own.”