26 Students to graduate from REACH program

BY CINDY GARCIA | MAY 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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Donning caps and gowns, 26 REACH students will march across Macbride Hall today after an experience that may have irrevocably changed their lives.

The University of Iowa REACH program, a two-year certificate for students with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, will say goodbye to graduating students.

REACH student Patrick Bardsley noted that the program has changed his life.

“It’s helped me gain independence and figure out where I want to go in life,” he said. “It’s helped me make friends because I’ve lived in the dorm for two years.”

Of the 26 students graduating this year, 18 are from the second-year program, and eight are from the optional third-year program.

The class of 2010 will also be recognized for its five-year reunion on Saturday. The convocation will also be available through a live stream.

There was widespread consensus on the program’s positive effect as REACH students moved out of Stanley Hall on Thursday night.

This kind of immersion is an essential portion of the REACH program.

“Our goal is to help them become as independent as they can be,” said Pam Ries, a UI clinical professor in charge of the UI program.

“They live in the residence halls like all incoming freshmen might, but we provide extra support to help them with executive functioning skills,” she said.

REACH provides academic, professional, and social support through classes and development programs. Students who need help after graduation are also provided resources.

“We check in with them periodically, every six months or once a year to see if they need any help,” Ries said. “If they want a new job, we would look at their résumé or practice interviewing them.”
She also said students can attend reconnecting events for REACH staff and students.

“I’ve matured,” Bardsley said. “Before, I was like, ‘Whatever, I’ll just get some kind of job.’ Now, I have a path I want to get to.”

His newfound sense of direction has led him to consider going into the landscaping and construction field after graduation.

Another member of the REACH program, Zack Minn, has decided to forgo graduating after two years by enrolling in the third-year option.

He will live at Parklawn next year with more independent living. He was adamant about the program’s positive effect.

“It’s been really great,” he said. “It’s helped me become more independent than I even thought I could be. I love Iowa and the program. It’s the first program of its kind — there’s others that are similar to it but not like it.”

Even though Minn will not graduate this year, he has plans for when he graduates.

“I want to go back home, go to community college, and become a para-educator and help students who are like me,” he said. “It’s hard for students at the elementary level to focus. I want to help them do the best they can.”

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