Among the students sitting in Layla Archer’s recent class were four young adults with special needs who are excitedly experiencing college for the first time.
The students with special needs are enrolled in a new College Transition Program offered jointly by the College of Health and Public Affairs and nonprofit UCP. Seven transition students in all are auditing courses in the college — on “Human Development,” “Careers in Criminal Justice” and “Careers in Public Affairs — with support from UCP’s new East Orange/Bailes campus in the Central Florida Research Park.
“They’re attending lectures at UCF and working on their class assignments at our campus,” said UCP coordinator Bonnie Reid, who accompanied the transition students to Archer’s class. “We’re also planning to develop exams for them to take.”
All of the transition students have completed their high school course work and are supported by McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities.
At the college, the transition students also will receive support from “Study Buddies” — UCF students enrolled in the course who are willing to sit with a transition student during class and answer questions. The buddies will also work together on group projects and meet for study sessions.
“Twelve students in this course have offered their support,” said Reid, a 2009 graduate from UCF who majored in exceptional education. “They’ve either worked with students with disabilities as “Best Buddies” here at UCF, or they have a family member with a disability.”
During the class, Archer randomly divided her students into teams to begin a group project. She encouraged the teams to pull in a transition student, and in a matter of minutes each one was part of a group.
“I like the classes,” said transition student Taylor Nardolillo. “This whole experience is awesome.”
Inclusive programs like this give individuals with disabilities an opportunity to explore their own potential, explained John Bricout, associate director for research in the School of Social Work. “Traditionally, these individuals go on to low-level jobs,” he said. “But as a society, we’re trying to move toward supporting them in reaching their full potential.”
This sort of program also provides non-disabled peers and the institution an experience of working with individuals with disabilities, Bricout added. “The experience can really broaden attitudes.”