Students, mentors, and parents all gathered together in the small living room of Beechwoods Hall on Western Campus. There were a range of emotions all around–excitement at being reunited, sadness at saying goodbye, and pride for how well everything turned out. This was an end of the week celebration ceremony for Miami’s Inclusive College Experience Program run by Miami University College of Education, Health, and Society’s faculty member Ashley Johnson. Everyone in attendance could see that the week had been a moving, memorable experience for all involved.
Miami’s Inclusive College Experience provided the opportunity for undergraduate students and external student participants with intellectual disabilities to live, learn, and have fun together in a one to one mentoring environment. Select Department of Educational Psychology students spent their previous spring semester in an independent study preparing for the program, learning about high school to college transition options for students with intellectual disabilities as well as identifying best practices in other inclusive college programs across the country. Over the summer, undergraduates utilized their acquired knowledge by participating in a weeklong overnight experience with a mentee.
Miami students paired up with a community participant while following a routine-based schedule together: attending daily classes, rooming in the same dorm room, and enjoying activities and meals around campus. Classes covered everything from dance, ecology, and zoology to self-determination and business. “Our week was wildly successful with seamlessly authentic friendships and learning experiences,” described Ms. Johnson.
Students, participants, and parents alike came away from this experience with nothing but good things to say. “I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” said community participant Cali Jonke’s mom. “I was absolutely shocked how independent she was without me. It made me look at her with a whole different perspective. Cali is already counting down the days (no kidding) until she can ‘go back to college’ next summer!”
Many of the participants had never spent a night away from home, so the experience was totally new. Participant John Davis said, ”I can do it!” when asked about his experiences at college. John had never thought about college before his time at Miami. He now not only wants to apply for an inclusive college program, his mentor from this summer is helping him research and carry out his wish.
“It’s rare to find something that is so beneficial and enjoyable to every person involved,” said Miami student Sydney Stevens. “This was not a week where Miami students were helping the participants–instead, relationships were being formed and everyone explored new ideas and experiences.” In fact, engaging in authentic friendships while practicing at becoming an educational coach was a large goal for Miami students participating in the program.
The week full of college adventures had a huge impact on community participants; some not even dreaming college was possible before this. Parents commented that their children learned to become more independent and self-sufficient. Participants learned that they could be successful in college and even attend like their brothers or sisters. “Hannah still talks about Miami numerous times a day and takes her Miami sweatshirt with her everywhere she goes,” describes community participant Hannah McCaslin’s parent. “She tells everyone ‘Go Redhawks!’”
Anyone interested in finding out more about Miami’s Inclusive College Experience should contact Ashley Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.