In Virginia, thirty high school students with disabilities, plus parents, educators, and VR counselors all go to college together for three days at the end of June. The event is College Bound, a transition conference that has taken place on the campus of Virginia Tech since 1999. The program offers impressive separate and overlapping learning tracks on transition skills and strategies for students, parents, and professionals. What distinguishes the program most, however, is the way it models transition success; the program relies heavily on college students with disabilities to help run the show.
Planning for each conference begins nine months earlier when college student leaders are interviewed and selected to participate in the following summer's program. College students are chosen who have a strong interest in serving as role models for high school students and who have distinguished themselves as self-advocates, leaders, and learners. They must also demonstrate competency and experience making use of campus resources. Between ten and twelve leaders are selected each year, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students drawn from a half-dozen Virginia colleges and universities. Most leaders are identified as having learning disabilities and/or attention deficit disorder, but others have included individuals with physical, psychiatric, and sensory disabilities.
College student leaders help plan, design, and implement the College Bound program, and to do so they undertake several days of training on information and strategies they will need to work with young people with disabilities, parents and professionals. Their roles are, indeed, diverse: a blend of responsibilities common to summer camp counselors, advisory committee members, orientation leaders, and program instructors. Trainings they attend cover a range of topics from "Ice breakers and team building" to "Using Blackboard for course integration" and "Goal setting and decision-making."
At the start of each College Bound program, participating high school students are divided into small group teams, each led by a college student leader. Leaders begin the session by sharing with their students how their disability impacts their college life. Throughout the College Bound program college leaders share with their students how they secure and use accommodations to be successful learners. Teams create smaller social environments to encourage sharing and socializing, and they're also fun. College Bound uses team competitions to boost enthusiasm and confidence throughout the three days.
Students and parents rate their time with college student leaders highly on their program evaluations. In general, students report that College Bound improves their confidence to be a college student, comfort level talking about their disability, ability to describe their own strengths and weaknesses, among other more specific transition and AT related skills.
Here are some College Bound program nuts and bolts:
College Bound began as a one-day event in 1999 as a college recruitment tool for high school students with disabilities interested in higher education (sponsored by New River Community College and the Southwest Transition Center at Virginia Tech).
Who funds it today?
· Virginia Dept. of Rehabilitation Services
· Virginia Dept. of Education Training and Technical Assistance Center-Radford University
· Southwest Virginia Assistive Technology System (Virginia's AT Act program)
· PEP Net-South
· Student participants pay a small fee to supplement other funds but this is often funded by VR
· More than 35 volunteers support with their time, expertise, and resources
· High school juniors and seniors and rising college freshman with disabilities
· VR counselors
What topics are covered for students?
Workshops and activities cover transition-relevant subject matter including: self-advocacy, goal setting, ADA rights/responsibilities, AT for learning, getting help, college supports (health, social, career, academic, fitness), college expectations, organization and study skills, and balancing life and school, visits to career services and research labs.
What topics are covered for parents?
Parent sessions include information on the difference between the IEP and an accommodation plan under the ADA, changing roles for parents, financial aid, accessing AT, student perspectives, college disability services offices, resources for organization and study skills.
What topics are covered for educators and rehabilitation counselors?
Professionals attend sessions with students and parents in addition to their own workshops covering topics such as: creating a positive post-school vision, involving students in the IEP process, accessing AT, curricula to support transition self-determination, rights and responsibilities under IDEA vs ADA.
A 2007 study of College Bound outcomes found participants developed new leadership skills, built self-confidence, increased responsibilities and independent living skills, and felt more positive about attending college. After attending College Bound students contacted college disability services on campus, talked with successful college students and confidentially applied for colleges.
College Bound has inspired other college transition conferences, including Virginia's Say Yes to College at Old Dominion University Campus. Learn more about Say Yes to College. Learn more about College Bound.
College Bound contact: Dr. Susan Asselin, firstname.lastname@example.org