At LDI, Students with Learning Disabilities Can Reach Their Academic, Social and Workplace Potential Through Summer Programming
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At LDI, Students with Learning Disabilities Can Reach Their Academic, Social and Workplace Potential Through Summer Programming

Many teens and young adults with hidden disabilities such as specific learning disorders, ADHD, high functioning Autism and similar issues aspire to-and yearn for-greater success in higher education and community inclusion. Summer college-bridge or transition-focused programming such as LDI’s Emerging Leaders Summer Academy, both address this need while providing excellent opportunities to develop and skillfully use life success strategies.

Meaningful summer program models use evidence-based practices to integrate functional and practical decision-making frameworks. These frameworks are based on whatever available evidence exists of those practices, professional judgment, clinical expertise, and student values, preferences and context.

The Emerging Leaders Summer Academy is a collaborative private/public partnership between the Life Development Institute (LDI), an independent postsecondary program for higher education capable young adults with learning challenges, Phoenix Community College, a campus in one of nation’s the largest public community college systems and Northern Arizona University, a traditional public university located in Flagstaff, Arizona.

All students lived on campus at Northern Arizona University (NAU), embedded in a new residence hall adjacent to the Franke Business College, where classes were held. NAU staff were outstanding in providing personalized attention in the residence hall, staffing for on-campus activities and additional campus security.

The weekly schedule was a robust one, and students worked in class, in the community demonstrating working together in common purpose performing service learning, traveling in northern Arizona to many great recreational activities and learning how to manage the little free time provided for them.

The Challenge of Encouraging Emerging Leaders with Disabilities in Higher Education

P1090058Many teens and young adults with hidden disabilities such as specific learning disorders, ADHD, high functioning Autism and similar issues aspire to-and yearn for-greater success in higher education and community inclusion. Summer college-bridge or transition-focused programming such as LDI’s Emerging Leaders Summer Academy, both address this need while providing excellent opportunities to develop and skillfully use life success strategies.

The importance of having higher education or postsecondary credentials leading to improved employment opportunities is illustrated from a recent study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which predicts that 65% of all U.S. jobs (47% Associate’s or higher) will require some college level education by 2020 (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2013).

As of 2011, only 39% of Americans ages 25 to 64 held an associate’s degree or higher (Lumina Foundation for Education, 2013)http://www.luminafoundation.org/stronger_nation . Nationally, almost 37% of community college students complete a degree or certificate within 6 years. In Arizona, that figure is just under 18%. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics,” 2009).

Earning the right kind of educational credentials is also a critical step towards improving the employment and employability of people with disabilities. Recent job gains and drops in unemployment rolls nationally have not helped improve employment outcomes, as the Office of Disability Employment policy pegs the July 2015 Labor Force Participation of working age people with disabilities at 19.8% compared to 69.0% for working age people without disabilities. There also remains a huge disparity among unemployment rates of people with disabilities at 10.4% versus 5.4% of people without disabilities.

Despite progress resulting from landmark civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation, considerable numbers of employers mistakenly view hiring people with disabilities as a social policy, more likely to incur costs than to create business value. The policies associated with paying disability benefits and lost productivity rather than investing in appropriate and accessible training, education, and employment programs for the 19 million unemployed working age people with functional impairments costs over $200 billion annually in the US alone.

There are other costs to consider as well. The emotional impact that one deals with daily related to social exclusion- not being treated as a whole person but rather as a person with “a hole in them”- frustrate many young adults with problems or barriers in learning and social engagement. Too many are not viewed by others nor typically don’t think of themselves as being leaders or having leadership capabilities.

There is no recognizable international leader with learning challenges or a social movement openly advancing an advocacy agenda. Apparently, the general public considers “leading experts” to be professionals in the field or parents of adult children with the conditions. How does a community advance itself when others talk for them and there is no invitation for a seat at the table to be included in making decisions?

These issues are not fixed by academic interventions alone, as they are advocacy issues that go beyond the traditional academic mission of higher education. The LDI Emerging Leaders Summer Academy understands the importance of also developing the soft skills needed to fit in with the current and future workforce and how this affects students with learning and/or social challenges.
Critical need to close the performance and participation gap for students with disabilities.

College-capable students with disabilities are participating in higher education at ever greater numbers, and now represent 10% of total enrollment in US colleges and universities. National data trends show that 45% of undergraduate students with disabilities are most commonly found in two-year institutions, with those having learning disabilities, ADHD and mental health disorders comprising the greatest numbers disclosing their conditions (NCES, 2011).

While nearly 94% of high school students with these conditions get some kind of academic support or help, just 17% of enrolled college students with disabilities do. Students with learning disabilities are far more likely than others to drop out of four-year colleges. Just 34% complete a four-year degree within eight years of finishing high school compared to 56% of all students nationally who graduate within six years (Heching Report, 2010).


Current Approaches Related to College Success Programs

P1080650For many years, research has pointed to variables that may help to improve student persistence in community colleges, including the frequency of contact with faculty, staff, and other students; involvement in learning communities; the quality and availability of student support services; (NCHEMS, “Retention Rates – First-Time College Freshmen Returning Their Second Year,” 2008).

Meaningful summer program models use evidence-based practices to integrate functional and practical decision-making frameworks. These frameworks are based on whatever available evidence exists of those practices, professional judgment, clinical expertise, and student values, preferences and context.

Program developers and evaluators using this approach take into consideration that such Summer programming competencies and outcomes are developed/implemented by practitioners rather than researchers. This developmental process facilitates a productive way to narrow the research-to-practice gap resulting in a mechanism for organizing, field-testing and disseminating evidence-based best practices/resources to practitioners who work with individuals with disabilities (IHD, 2015).

The Emerging Leaders Summer Academy is a collaborative private/public partnership between the Life Development Institute (LDI), an independent postsecondary program for higher education capable young adults with learning challenges, Phoenix Community College, a campus in one of nation’s the largest public community college systems and Northern Arizona University, a traditional public university located in Flagstaff, Arizona .

The purpose of the Emerging Leaders Summer Academy is twofold:

  1. Create a practical and inclusive bridge between the secondary and higher education/career development aspirations of under-prepared & under-represented college-capable/college-bound students with learning/social challenges that improves readiness and academic success in high school and college, builds interpersonal effectiveness, self-esteem/confidence, develops self-advocacy and leadership skills.
  2. Demonstrate program effectiveness validating that students with learning/social issues can achieve significant academic success with persistence, pass rates, and retention/matriculation rates commensurate with non-learning/socially challenged high school and college peers.

The Social Change Model of Leadership (SCML) provided the theoretical framework for the LDI Emerging Leaders Summer Academy, as it was created specifically for college students and promotes leadership as a purposeful, collaborative, values-based process that results in positive social change.

In both the LDI Emerging Leaders Summer Academy and SCML models, social responsibility and change for the common good are achieved through the development of specific core values targeted at enhancing students’ levels of self-awareness and ability to work with others. These values functioned at the individual (i.e., Consciousness of Self, Congruence, Commitment), group (i.e., Common Purpose, Collaboration, and Controversy with Civility), and societal (i.e., Citizenship) levels.


2015 LDI Summer Emerging Leaders Academy Participants

P1090093Of the 14 students who began the 2015 cohort, 8 were recent high school graduates who were college-bound and 6 were still attending high school and represented a broad socio/economic, racial, linguistic and cultural demographic of young men and women from across the US as well as Turkey.

Through contributions made to the LDI Education Fund and private donations, 7 students were provided with full scholarships covering all tuition, housing and recreational activity expenses. The funding allowed the Academy the ability to have a student cohort that was both inclusive and diverse in it’s representation, thus making it a truly representative learning and living community of peers.

Some key factors in choosing to participate in the Academy and spend five weeks away from home included:

  • Be in a challenging environment to improve personal and academic skills
  • Acknowledgment they could do more to function independently
  • Practice socially responsible communication
  • Resolve personal differences and conflicts in a civil manner
  • Openness to deviating from established schedules and routines
  • Personal willingness to “pay the price” of self-improvement
  • Commitment to working with others to achieve a common purpose

All students lived on campus at Northern Arizona University (NAU), embedded in a new residence hall adjacent to the Franke Business College, where classes were held. NAU staff were outstanding in providing personalized attention in the residence hall, staffing for on-campus activities and additional campus security.

The weekly schedule was a robust one, and students worked in class, in the community demonstrating working together in common purpose performing service learning, traveling in northern Arizona to many great recreational activities and learning how to manage the little free time provided for them.

Dynamic linkages with Phoenix Community College provided an opportunity to earn college credit in Leadership studies and see how they could handle a greatly accelerated class schedule of doing 16 weeks of work in the five weeks of the Academy. The course focused on Social Change Model of Leadership qualities that make strong leaders. Emerging Leaders used information gathering skills, problem-solving skills and decision-making skills, as well as learn critical thinking to be able to be a leader in school, work and the community.

Course completion: 93%
Pass rate: 86%
Class average: 3.44 out of 4.00

A second course covered Student Leadership Group Fundamentals, and was a hybrid online and ground-based offering through The National Center for Student Leadership. Emerging Leaders aspired to earn the Certified Student Leader Certificate, where they successfully demonstrated their abilities to use critical skills needed to be effective both in college and their careers, such as managing conflict, leading with integrity and embracing diversity and differences.

Course completion: 93%
Pass rate: 86%
Certificate earned: 86%
Class average: 3.14 out of 4.00

Rounding out the 2015 course offerings was Career Investigations. This LDI-developed course was created to improve employability, and provides for essential basics of putting together professional job seeking documents and how to conduct a job search.Emerging Leaders developed the capacity to recognize and effectively use these tools and positive work behaviors in order to make them more employable.

Course completion: 93%
Pass rate: 86%
Class average: 3.41 out of 4.00


A Transformative Process that addresses Common Problems for Virtually Any Student with Learning Disabilities

P1090149The 5 week summer initiative allows for discovery and articulation of personal, group, and societal values through community engagement. It opens the front door to a new world of possibilities and potential for contribution as a citizen that can’t be accomplished in a static, traditional or online classroom setting.

Despite the recent economic upturn, our global, knowledge-based economies need talent more than ever. The 54 million people living with disabilities in the US need to be educated, assessed, and included for what they can do, not for what they can’t.

This key difference of “can do”- recognizing, celebrating, and developing personal competence- is central to LDI Emerging Leaders student success. The Emerging Leaders Summer Academy uses a strength-based common sense process that emphasizes what is required/expected of an average person to function in any given adult environment. This approach identifies a challenging set of goals that focus on situational learning and personal achievement necessary for all adults, not just those considered to have disabilities.

The Emerging Leaders Summer Academy successfully challenges the societal limitations placed on people who learn or behave differently as being less capable, not of leadership timber, and unable to make significant contributions to society.

This practical model moves beyond academic achievement by creating transformative processes that address common problems for virtually any student. Indeed, educational achievement and test results alone are not predictors of successful students, well-prepared employees or engaged citizens. It’s outward focus on national issues and blending of traditional/non-traditional structures, shared connections, and building community helps all involved affirm they have a direct ability to improve the quality and equality of life where they live.

Active engagement enables them to believe they can do better than they thought.Working within a group helps them realize they are doing better, and begin valuing and respecting other people’s diversity. Finally, they begin to look for ways that others can do better.They have begun the journey to what Peter Drucker calls a “universally education person.”

To learn more about LDI’s Emerging Leaders Summer Academy, or to register for the 2016 session click here.

Posted by Life Development Institute

This has been a special needs program update from Life Development Institute. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.