UI REACH program begins third-year option


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Realizing Educational and Career Hopes  now has a third-year option for students, and those involved with the program say they’ve seen positive results.

REACH is currently in its first year of implementing an optional third-year option in its two-year certificate program, after piloting the program during the 2011-12 school year. REACH is a program for individuals with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities.

The optional third year was implemented as a way for students to live with more independence while still attending the university. Six students are taking advantage of the third-year option this year.

“The third-year program was initiated due to parent demand,” said Jo Hendrickson, the director of REACH. “They were insistent their sons and daughters have been learning a lot and developing important skills, and they wanted them to have more time in between leaving REACH and going home.”

Students who are accepted into the third-year program live in Parklawn Apartments, where they cook and clean for themselves. They also take on a full-time class schedule of 13 credit hours and are encouraged to get involved in student organizations or volunteering.

Students in the REACH program also have the opportunity to take on internships. They identify their career interests and work three afternoons a week for up to three hours. One of the businesses participating in the program is The Daily Iowan.

“We look at our third year as a way to expand skills,” said Janis Mendenhall, the coordinator of career development and transition. “Our program is unique, because we have the student-life aspect, like the ability to interact with other students and getting involved.”

Other colleges, including Kirkwood Community College, have programs geared toward special-needs students, but REACH is one of the few that assimilates students into the university.

“There are different programs across the country that follow different models,” Hendrickson said. “Some are in high school and some are part of community colleges, but ours has the on-campus living component.”

The REACH program has 49 students, with six taking advantage of the third-year option. Students in their first and second year live in Stanley Hall with a REACH residence assistant, where they have to follow a curfew and specific rules. Students in their third year are enjoying the independence that comes with living on their own.

“I like living in Parklawn — there’s more space and more rooms to go to rather than living in Stanley,” third-year student Lindsay Wark said. “I think REACH is a great program. I’ve liked the last two years, and I like the third year so far. I hope every school has a program like this. ”

After students complete their third year, they have two years of post-program support. Students can keep in touch with other students and attend events put on by a parent-alumni association.

“Many students have come back over the years,” Hendrickson said. “Last week, a student recently told us she got a job in Des Moines as a CNA and recently married another REACH alumni. We build something called a circle of support to help everyone keep in touch.”

Because there are so few students chosen to take part in the third-year option, they serve as leaders to the other students in the REACH program.

“The second-year students really want to prove themselves to be in the third-year program,” Mendenhall said.

In addition to having a leadership position, being in the third-year program has also given the students a confident boost.

“There’s one boy, and he’s not just walking taller, he feels very accomplished,” Hendrickson said. “Their level of motivation is through the roof. They are thrilled with the opportunity.”

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