REACH may expand to three-year program

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Officials with the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes program at the University of Iowa are seeking approval from the state Board of Regents to extend the two-year program to three years.

"Many families of the REACH students have repeatedly urged REACH to offer an extended educational experience for their sons and daughters," said Professor Jo Hendrickson, the director of the program. "After nearly three years of successful implementation, the REACH program is positioned to respond to family and student appeals for a third-year option."

Under the proposal, a third year would added to the program, which provides learning opportunities for students with developmental disabilities.

Henderickson said the course work in the third year would be similar to that currently available to the program's students but would offer more extensive career-development opportunities.

"REACH students completing the third-year option will be better prepared to return to their home communities, enter the workforce, and live with greater independence as a result of the extended residence hall living experiences, campus and community involvement, internships, and coursework," Hendrickson said.

The Board of Regents will discuss the proposal during its meeting in Ames next week.

If approved, the third year would be a full-time requirement for program students, much like the current situation in which students are required to enroll in a minimum of 12 semester hours.

Students will, however, need to receive a certificate from the program before enrolling in the third year, Henderickson said. No new faculty or classroom space would be required to extend the program.

The expected enrollment for the 2011-12 year is as many as six new students; a maximum of 10 new students are allowed to enroll each year.

Edie Cusack, director of a similar program at Charleston College in Charleston, S.C. said she thinks extending the UI program would benefit the students' college experience.

"Our college is a four-year university, so we want the students to have an experience as close to the normal college experience as possible," Cusack said. "There's no reason for the students with disabilities to be treated any different from other university students."

The third-year option at the UI would provide new learning opportunities for students who learn differently from most college students, Hendrickson said. Those include more emphasis on independent life skills, person-centered planning, and stronger connections to the support available in the students' hometowns.

"Our program has provided them with the challenges that allow them to grow," said UI Professor Dennis Harper, the founding director of the university's program. "Our program is unique in the Big Ten, so it's important we continue to give them the chance to prove those who doubt them otherwise."

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