Great things happen when Keuka College teams up with the Yates County ARC and Penn Yan Central School District.
Case in point: the D.R.I.V.E. (diversity, responsibility, inclusion, vision and experiential learning) program.
The program is funded by the Penn Yan Central School District, administered and coordinated by Yates County ARC, and located on the Keuka College campus. It was organized by the Yates County Transition Collaborative, consisting of Drew Arnold, professor of psychology; Heather Bond, intake and transition coordinator for the Yates County ARC; Diane Burke, associate professor and chair of the Division of Education and Social Work; Anne Marie Guthrie, dean of the Center for Experiential Learning; Richard Shaver, director of student support services for the Penn Yan Central School District; and Vicki Smith, professor and chair of the Division of Occupational Therapy.
In the program, Keuka College students (sophomores, juniors and seniors who are human services-related majors—psychology, occupational therapy, education and social work) serve as peer mentors to young adults with developmental disabilities as they assimilate into the college environment and explore their personal goals.
“The participants have reached an age where their age peers have left high school to make the transition to independent living,” said Arnold. “These students have a choice of leaving school, often still needing to acquire skills, or they can stay in a [high] school in which they are older (special needs students can stay in school until age 21). Thus, this program gives them a chance to make the transition to living as an adult in a more normative and supportive context.”
The Penn Yan Central School District Committee on Special Education identified seven students who qualified for the program. Together with ARC, the committee determined individual goals for each special education student. When the seven D.R.I.V.E. participants are not at Keuka (five of them are on campus five days a week, one student three days a week, and two students two days a week), they are employed through the ARC, attending the ARC’s Day Habilitation Program, or attending Penn Yan Academy.
There are 10 Keuka College students who are employed as D.R.I.V.E. peer mentors: Andrew Cohen, Jessica Cunningham, Kristin Curran, Nicole Dean, Carly Fuerst, Sharon Hurley, Sara Malikowski, Aubrey Orloff, Samantha Smith, and Meagan Ten Eyck.
Fuerst works one-on-one with a student who is blind.
“I am able to learn a lot about Braille, ‘travel training’ by helping him learn the campus, and different techniques that the blind use to function,” said Fuerst, a senior occupational science major. “I participate in his sessions with his vision teacher, I help him use the library, we spend an hour in the Weed two times per week, and I assist him at lunch.”
“I experienced the most amazing thing when I took Steve, who is blind, swimming,” said Dean, a senior social work major. “I had never worked with anyone who is blind before, and to see him swim and get around and just enjoy himself was great. I really have a better understanding of people with disabilities and I now have an interest in working with this population in my career as a social worker.”
“Working in the D.R.I.V.E. program has really opened my eyes to working with this special population,” said Ten Eyck, a junior social work major. “I work with one student predominately and he makes me laugh every single day. He taught me about his disability, but he’s taught me more about his abilities.”
According to Guthrie, the linking of faculty, academic programs and students for the D.R.I.V.E. program supports the Center for Experiential Learning’s mission of transforming experience into knowledge.
“This program allows students to have an opportunity to have a work-study position which incorporates a career development experience through being a mentor for the D.R.I.V.E. students,” said Guthrie. “This is just another example of experiential learning that gives our students a competitive advantage.”
And the mentees couldn’t be happier about ‘going to college.’
“The [ARC] students are ecstatic to be on campus,” said Bond. “All the professors and work-study students have been phenomenal in including them in campus life. All of the D.R.I.V.E. student have [Keuka College] IDs and e-mail addresses, and they were even given Keuka College messenger bags from Executive Director of Alumni and Family Relations Kathy Waye as a welcome to campus. Everyone has been so helpful and welcoming, from food service, to IT (information technology), to housekeeping, to payroll, to the registrar’s office, and the experiential education office. All of them have been integral to the successful transition of these seven to the College community.
According to Bond, Keuka faculty members volunteer to have D.R.I.V.E. students in their classroom and they are integrated into the classroom environment as much as possible.
“The students sit in on one or two classes per semester,” she explained. “They choose the classes based on their personal interests and goals for the future.”
The classes that D.R.I.V.E. students are sitting in on this semester include American Sign Language I, Introduction to Human Development, Ceramics I, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Drama and Film, Food and Society, and Wellness.
“When they are not in class, the students are utilizing other campus facilities such as the Weed Physical Arts Center, computer lab, library, or dining in the Geiser Refectory,” said Bond. “Each student has IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals and dreams for the future that they work on with the program’s transition educator while they are on-site as well.
“Some of the goals they have and are working on include learning to read; getting their GED; getting their (driver’s) license; learning about nutrition and cooking; researching careers in child care, the movie industry, police work, food service, horticulture, and the arts; learning to budget and have a checking account; and learning about social interaction and appropriate behavior,” added Bond.
And, like their Keuka College peer mentors, the D.R.I.V.E. participants can look forward to celebrating “graduation” after four years of hard work.
“We have established a system of credits for the student to earn, much like their peers without disabilities do,” said Bond. “The aim is for the program to last approximately three to four years, with the goal of employability upon leaving the program.”