By Eileen Persike, Editor
Missy Baldwin just wrapped up her spring semester classes at Nicolet College in Rhinelander. What’s more, she landed a summer job working in the office of the Dean of Students at Nicolet, a job she held during her just completed internship. As a person with an intellectual disability, college classes and internships wouldn’t have been an option for Missy only a few years ago.
“I took a resource seminar, and my internship with Dr. Emily,” Missy said, “I love it here!”
Last week Missy and eighteen other students and many family members celebrated completion of courses taken through the Jump! Start program at Nicolet College. It’s a cutting edge educational program in its fifth or sixth year in Rhinelander.
“It started when a group of agencies and area high schools got together with Nicolet to talk about how to better serve students with disabilities in our community,” said Outreach Specialist Katherine Garrison. “We are one of seven programs in the state. We started with soft skills and now we are offering all sorts of classes.”
Students with disabilities have the option in Wisconsin to attend school longer, graduating when they are 21, with they have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place. Jump! Start takes an innovative approach to inclusive post-secondary education and provides high schools with beneficial and interesting ways for these students to work on growth and independent living. Adults, or life-long learners, are also welcome into the program.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is, in part, what got the ball rolling. The law contains a number of important new provisions that improve access to postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. “Think College” is a grassroots organization in Washington D.C., with which Jump! Start is affiliated. Garrison said former Headwaters, Inc. Director Mary Hardtke spearheaded the local cutting edge program, modeling it after one at Edgewood College in Madison.
Now they are getting state and national attention.
“We’ve been invited to conferences, and Missy has presented to groups, advocating for Think College,” Garrison said. “We want to help other college and high school transition groups.”
One of the third semester Jump! Start courses is job shadowing. Student David Strid job shadowed bussing and washing dishes at Dinky Diner and was subsequently offered a job. The Diner has increased his interest in cooking, and plans to enroll in culinary arts classes in the near future. As for Missy, her goal of working as an office assistant will be met by the end of the summer.
Continuing to challenge herself, Missy will also be taking regular college courses in the fall.
Outreach Specialist Katherine Garrison said she will continue advocating for students with intellectual disabilities and the program. “We need to make sure students have Individual Education Plans starting in middle school,” she reiterated. “And we need to educate parents so they know this is an option for their child; and it has to be part of the conversation.”