New program helping UNC students with developmental disabilities get education, find dream job

Posted at 9:30 PM, Oct 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-15 00:36:04-04

GREELEY, Colo -- When you sit in on Professor Phil Klein's Geography 100 class at the University of Northern Colorado, it looks like just about any other class at the 100 level:  65 students, mostly freshman, learning about world history.

But until recently, college classes were just a dream for students like Nick Wrape.

Nick is one of four students in UNC’s Go On And Learn (GOAL) program that’s helping students with developmental disabilities get into the classroom and study the things they want.

For Nick, that’s geography.

“I went to Canada and then I went to Europe two years ago,” Nick recalled.  “Switzerland, Austria, German and Italy.  Those four countries.”

“I’m studying early childhood development,” fellow student Jenna Zecchino added. “I’m also studying poetry right now.”

Before Colorado lawmakers approved funding to get programs like this started at three schools, 47 other states had created inclusive programs.

Associate professor Robin Brewer has been trying to find a way to start an inclusive program on UNC’s campus for years.

She’s now the director of the GOAL program.

“Our program is the cutting edge,” Brewer told Denver7, adding that UNC is taking it one step further than just getting students with developmental disabilities in the classroom. “They live in the residence halls with their peers.  They have typical roommates.”

That has meant helping the students learn what it means to be independent, including little things other students take for granted.

“Taking a student to a grocery store or to Target and they ask us for permission to buy something and it’s like ‘You don’t have to ask us.  If that’s something you want and you have the money for it, you can just buy,’” Brewer said.

The GOAL program is designed to help students develop in three areas:

  • Residence life—like laundry, dining and dealing with roommates
  • Campus life—getting involved in clubs and recreational activities
  • Academics—developing study habits and more

“The point is for our students to be able to gain skills to work in a field they are interested in and they have strengths,” is how academic coordinator Stephanie Hernon described the goals of GOAL, but she added that there has been a bit of a learning curve for students like Brianna Kimball.

“She doesn’t like homework as much,” said Hernon. “She’s learning that it’s part of college and it’s why she’s really here.”

But Hernon says for the most part, the students have adapted well to the GOAL program.  In fact, Professor Phil Klein says Nick is exceeding his expectations.

“He’s there all the time.  He puts a lot of effort into it I can tell,” he said.  “If I had 65 students who were as willing to ask questions as him it would be golden.”

Colorado’s Inclusive Higher Education act puts the state in compliance with the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act.  Lawmakers approved $75,000 for the program for four years at three different schools—UNC, University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Arapahoe Community College.

While UNC’s GOAL program only has four students right now, they hope next year’s first year class is a little bigger.  Ultimately they hope to admit ten students into the program every year.