Partnership with CCC gives students with disabilities access to college classes, activities

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District recently partnered with Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus to make college more accessible to all students — particularly students with intellectual disabilities.

The partnership, which is new this fall, creates an avenue for students in the WL-WV School District's Adult Transition Program to experience college classes and social activities.

The Adult Transition Program is currently housed out of Arts and Technology High School and provides transition services for students ages 18-21 for one to three years. Students are required to have completed high school and have a documented disability with an Individualized Education Program. The curriculum and activities students participate in assist them with developing skills necessary to be successful adults in their home, community and work.

With this new partnership, the Adult Transition Program would operate three days a week at Art Tech and would allow two days for students to attend CCC.

"It will look a little different for each person," said Jennifer Spencer-Iiams, assistant superintendent of student services, adding that the student schedules will be individualized for young adults in the transition program so that it aligns with their interests and needs.

Both Spencer-Iiams and CCC President Tim Cook, say the partnership came to fruition much faster than they expected.

Cook said CCC was approached by the school district last year about the partnership. They spoke about different models and possibilities and then explored it more again early this summer.

"It seemed like a really good idea to our community and (we were) trying to be responsive to our community's needs," Cook said.

Spencer-Iiams said she recognized the school district's work around creating an inclusive school environment but noticed that students with more significant disabilities did not have the same opportunities after graduation.

"(The district) recognized the value of students learning with their peers and the power of peer-learning and high expectations for all and not pre-determining what learning will happen for students with whatever disabilities they have," said Spencer-Iiams. "We have had students thrive being a part of their primary school, their middle school, their high school."

In Oregon, Portland State University received a Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability (TPSID) grant funded by the US Department of Education through the Think College program — a national organization that helps develop and improve higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities. The university partnered with Portland Public Schools to provide a model that makes college level learning accessible to all students.

Spencer-Iiams said she was intrigued by PSU's program, so she met with administration about a year and a half ago and began learning more about how the university models this program.

"The outcomes for these college programs, I think the statistics, the outcomes, are huge in terms of great levels of independence, a greater likelihood of paid employment (and) greater social connections," Spencer-Iiams said.

She discussed the possibility with Cherrie Canfield and others in Adult Transition Services and Christina Wigglesworth and other administration at CCC about using the Think College program to provide a framework and research to help the district and CCC craft a model for integrating students in college life. CCC already had Think College's work on its radar.

Since most classes were filled by the time the partnership was formed, the college created a first year experience class for the Adult Transition students, which will help them navigate classes and teach them about advising, registering for classes and more. The ultimate goal, though, will be to have students integrated into whatever college class they take and to provide them with the appropriate support.

"The goal of the program is that they have some sort of work-related experience, whether that's on campus or off campus," Cook said, adding that finding work-related experience this quickly has been a challenge and may take some time. "It's all very new."

All the scheduling logistics and other details like cost and sustainable financial assistance have yet to be finalized, and the program might look very different for each student, depending on their needs.

"Our bread and butter is individualization," Spencer-Iiams said.

Cook said that if this school year goes well with the WL-WV School District, the college might expand its partnership with other districts.

"I'm really hopeful it's going to be a good experience for everyone," Cook said.

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