UI REACH graduation marks 5th year of program

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MAY 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The auditorium in the Pappajohn Business Building echoed with sounds of laughter and the occasional crack in speakers’ voices as tears slid down their faces. Twenty-two students sat in graduation caps and gowns, with smiles beaming.

This was a day many of the graduates, and their parents, worked toward for years — and they credit the REACH program at the University of Iowa for helping them achieve that goal.

“I would call today a steppingstone,” second-year REACH student Jonathan Korsmeyer said. “I’m still working toward my goals, but it’s definitely a milestone. I probably would not have had this opportunity [to graduate] if [the UI] didn’t have this program.”

The REACH program — Realizing Educational and Career Hopes — celebrated its fifth anniversary May 10. The program is in the UI College of Education and serves 18- to 25-year-old students who have intellectual, cognitive, or learning disabilities.

The program allows students to live in a dorm, attend social events in Iowa City, and learn skills that help their academic and personal lives.

One year ago, the two-year certification program added a third-year option for students to learn to live in a more independent environment. The first group of third-year students graduated May 10.

The third-year option will continue next year, serving its maximum of 50 students. There are currently 44 students in the program — six of which took advantage of the third-year option.

Julia Shaw, the coordinator of academic enrichment in the education school, said it has been extremely successful, having students learn more skills that will help them once they leave the UI.

“It’s a great program and really has been since its conception as an idea,” she said. “We never thought it’d be this successful and helpful for the students’ growth. The students see their growth and the parents see it, and it’s just absolutely great.”

Ann Farland, a budget/financial officer in the education school, said she believes the program is valuable and extremely beneficial for the students who are involved.

“This is such a valuable program and just really fun to see the past graduates as well,” she said. “It’s a great program in which the students learn immense amount of information. When you see them when they come in and a year or two later, you’re really pleased with the results.”

Students and parents agree that without the program, the students would have had a more difficult time living in a college environment.

“It definitely provided a climate of support, when he succeeds and when he fails,” said Mary Gunderson, the mother of a second-year student. “[REACH] gave him tools he needed to learn and to grow to become independent, have social skills, and academic skills.”

Gunderson said the program not only helped her son but also their family.

“This last year was his best,” she said. “He used to come home, and we would be in separate rooms, because he’d be angry and I would micromanage. Now, we’ll be walking on the street, and he’ll come right up and join the conversation. This is just another jump-start he needs.”

Alex Rolfing, who will go into the third-year option, said the opportunities at the UI are ones he could not have gotten anywhere else.

“I feel so proud,” Rolfing said. “It’s been over two years, and it’s been a climb of a journey. I’m going to miss Iowa so much. I’ve been living here and doing more and more independent things that I can take back to Minnesota.”

Jane Palmer, also a second-year student, spoke at the convocation ceremony, noting that REACH has helped her not only with life and academic skills but also make lifelong friendships.

“I got here and saw how many people were on campus, and I just thought I wasn’t going to make a single friend,” Palmer said as her eyes welled with tears. “But I met two of my roommates on the first day, and we’ve been best friends ever since. I know I’ll miss my friends, but now I have new friends from all over the world to talk to.”

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