SUCCEED prepares people with intellectual, developmental disabilities for independent life
Tyler Fuchs resides in Oak Hall, takes University of Missouri–St. Louis classes and interns at UMSL’s Welcome Center. For fun, he might ride the MetroLink down to The Loop or hang out with his fraternity brothers at Sigma Tau Gamma.
The 21-year-old is like most UMSL students. He’s not, however, pursuing a degree. Not yet, anyway.
Independence, integration, inclusion
Fuchs and 15 additional students constitute the first cohort of SUCCEED, a two-year residential post-secondary program for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The goal of the program is to help the students achieve independence as they enter adulthood and prepare them to enter the work force or pursue an undergraduate degree.
The SUCCEED students’ college experience extends beyond the classroom. They participate in on-campus internships during the second semester of the first year and two off-campus internships during their second year. For example, Jarret Banks, Grayson Jostes and Abeo Thompson intern for Information Technology Services, the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center and University Child Development Center, respectively.
“I get to be around computers, and it gets me out of my room,” Banks says of his internship, which involves preparing computer labs for classrooms. “And this might help me get a job in the technology field.”
SUCCEED started with a lunch meeting between Deborah Baldini, associate dean for UMSL’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Professional and Continuing Studies, and Kathy Meath, president and chief executive officer at the nonprofit St. Louis Arc. The idea was that people with disabilities generally have few services available to them when they age out of secondary education at 21, and a parent often has to quit his or her job to stay home and provide support for the child.
“The longer they’re at home, the greater the chances are that they’ll lose their social network and the skills they developed through high school,” Baldini says. “They may become unable to live independently, have a job and contribute to the community.”
Baldini estimates about 150 similar post-secondary programs exist nationally, but only about 40 of them have a residential component. SUCCEED takes it a step further; efforts to integrate students with disabilities into the larger campus community are a crucial part of the program.
Kelly McGovern, a junior education major, took a course with SUCCEED students.
“SUCCEED gives them an opportunity to experience life as a college student, and they deserve that,” McGovern says. “That’s something they might not receive at other places.”
The college experience
April Regester’s students in her course Special Education 4342: Transition Issues and Planning stand at the front of the classroom. Half of them stand shoulder to shoulder, facing a parallel line of the other students doing the same.
At Regester’s signal, the students in one line begin discussing homework with those opposite them. Regester, assistant professor of special education at UMSL, signals again and one of the lines shifts down one person to the right and the process begins again. Everyone seems to be smiling, and there is no shortage of sharing.
The lines comprise a mix of education majors and SUCCEED students. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. The same goes when Regester calls upon her students with questions.
“All the students are equals in my class,” says Regester, who helped develop SUCCEED. “I have really high expectations for the students in SUCCEED.”
One education student, senior Verkethia Cameron, says she sometimes forgets the SUCCEED students are integrated in her class.
“They’re just like any other student,” Cameron says. “They have goals, and they’re motivated. Just because they have a certain disability that I may not have does not mean they deserve to be treated differently.”
Regester says all of her students benefit from the arrangement. The SUCCEED students experience a college course. The education students, many of them seeking special education certification, learn alongside and from students with disabilities.
“This is an experience most pre-service teachers don’t have,” Regester says. “I think it’s priceless.”
“One of SUCCEED’s greatest benefits is that most UMSL graduates live and work in the St. Louis area,” says Ann Wilkins, director of SUCCEED. “Developing relationships and a network of support creates an opportunity beyond the program.”
The apple falls close to the tree
When Tyler Fuchs was a high school freshman, his parents, Dave and Liz, remember thinking “What’s the next step?” Their older two children went to college. They didn’t think that was an option for their youngest son.
Tyler was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He says he has trouble learning new tasks, and communication was a challenge he’s since overcome.
“A lot of doctors said I wasn’t going to be able to ride a bike, and I wasn’t going to be able to communicate with other people,” he says. “I proved them wrong. I’m here at UMSL as a student. I’ve come a long way.”
Dave and Liz were also students at UMSL and met through their Greek life connections. Liz, who earned a BSBA in 1985, was a member of Alpha Xi Delta. Dave pledged to Sigma Tau Gamma; more than 30 years later, Tyler did the same.
“I think the people at SUCCEED were apprehensive about Tyler joining a fraternity,” Dave says.
“So were we,” Liz says.
Concerned, Dave set up a meeting with the fraternity’s executive council. It was immediately clear to him that the fraternity embraced Tyler.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Liz says.
“They’ve added a dimension to this experience that I couldn’t have ever imagined. They’ve been awesome,” Dave says. “To be fair to Tyler, he surprises us all the time.”
After SUCCEED, Fuchs wants to live on his own and pursue a bachelor’s degree in communication. And he’d like to do that at UMSL.
This story was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.
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