FINAL REPORT FOR THE
ACCESS TO SUCCESS PROJECT
Jill Douglass or Dennis Matsui
Santa Fe Community College
6401 Richards Ave.
Santa Fe, NM 87504
A. Executive Brief
The major activities of the Access to Success Project were designed to provide outreach and individualized support for college students with complex disabilities that would lead to improvements in their success in achieving their educational and employment goals.
Its clientele was drawn from an already existing pool of post-secondary students, students exiting secondary school programs, and adults with disabilities in the community who were interested in accessing higher education. A case management model was used to provide intensive one-on-one support through the use of Peer Liaisons. In addition to these support services, the project worked closely with faculty and staff to increase their understanding and abilities to serve these students.
We learned from this project that a casemanagement approach with one-on-one services provided by peers have a strong impact on students self-confidence and academic performance. The students trusted peers more quickly because their experiences often had been similar, and they were able to discuss personal topics more easily. As a result, students began to take more responsibility for their education and acknowledge their role in achieving success.
The peers, in turn, were able to develop a range of paraprofessional skills including case management, peer counseling, and advocacy. We also learned that faculty members were interested in working with students with disabilities once they felt that project staff were available to answer their questions and support them in decision-making.
One problem that was encountered in providing transition services was an initial reservation on the part of the institution to recruit students who had previously never been served by the college. Also, since we were serving clients and beginning to train the peers at the same time, the peers felt insecure at first about their abilities to help students with the wide variety of transition issues they were experiencing. An initial training period for the peers and more education about the program for the administration would do a great deal to eliminate or alleviate these difficulties.
The project was created to increase the number of students with disabilities who would enter, and eventually be successful in, higher education. In addition, the intent was to accomplish these goals while allowing peer mentors significant responsibility for providing services. Towards this end, a group of people with disabilities were trained in basic counseling and advocacy and then assigned caseloads of students with whom they worked individually. The peers received a great deal of ongoing supervision to develop their skills.
Also, as faculty and staff of the College had opportunities to work with the peers, it was hoped that they would begin to see students with disabilities as competent and potentially successful in this environment, and that they would gain a more thorough and accurate knowledge of disability issues in general.
We did not find it necessary to modify any of the goals that were stated in the original proposal. All of them were attainable within the context of the program.
The project was initially conceived to serve members of the community with moderate to severe physical disabilities or chronic illnesses, who could benefit from intensive individual attention. However, the students who ended up maintaining participation in the project were those who had multiple disabilities alongside social/emotional disorders, as well as those who had psychiatric disabilities. Approximately 50% of the clients were credit students in college classes; the other 50% were involved in the Adult Basic Education program (ABE). ABE provides instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, and preparation for the GED high school equivalency examinations.
E. Sponsorship and Collaboration
Within the College, the project established collaborative relationships with the Financial Aid Office, Counseling Services, Student Services, the Career Development Center, the Womens Resource Center, the Fitness Center, and the division heads of all areas of instruction. Most of these relationships involved sharing resources and coordinating services, along with project staff advocating for individual students with these offices.
For the Fitness Center, project staff developed a new course entitled "Exercise for Students with Disabilities" and helped fitness staff to incorporate the course into their regular curriculum.
In the community, collaborations were established with with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Technical Assistance Project, Supported Employment, Community Mental Health Services, Brain Injury Community Services, the Independent Living Center, and other community service providers for people with developmental disabilities. These collaborations involved both incoming referrals and, once we had begun to work with the students, referrals back to their agencies.
Among these agreements, several did not materialize in any significant way, including the Institute for Disability Culture, the Institute for Intercultural Collaborative Leadership, and the Staff Development Office on campus. Reasons for these difficulties will be discussed in later sections of this report.
The Access to Success project is housed within the Special Services Office at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC). SFCC is a two-year postsecondary institution, founded in 1982-1983, that combines academic degrees with certificate programs in a wide array of vocational areas. The colleges students are drawn almost exclusively from the local community and include a mix of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Anglos.
Many of them live at poverty levels and are first-generation college students, and given a New Mexico unemployment rate that is more than twice the national average, many also lack real work experience and opportunities for meaningful work. The dropout rate in the Santa Fe schools is approximately 40%, and for students with disabilities this figure is even higher. In 1992, in recognition of these potential barriers to higher education for many local students, the state of New Mexico received a five-year Systems Change Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education to examine and implement changes in transition services.
At the same time, the SFCC Special Services Office began realizing that some of its students needed more intensive support than was being provided. Often these students had multiple disabilities and complex learning needs. The Access project was designed to provide a transition model that would enable these students to receive the level of services they needed for success.
G. Project Activities
1. During the first year after funding, an advisory council was formed to oversee and provide input into project development and implementation. The advisory council was comprised of representatives from community-based agencies that provide services to adults with disabilities, a secondary school transition coordinator, a Navajo Nation rehabilitation counselor, a special ed. consultant from the State Department of Education, and DVR counselors and administrators. A Project Manager was hired, and then job descriptions were formed for the Peer Liaisons. The Project Manager networked with local agencies to find qualified people with disabilities to fill these positions.
Once they were hired, the Peer Liaisons were given initial training in the areas of peer support, resources coordination, reasonable accommodation, and self-advocacy. They helped provide outreach in the community to introduce the project and encourage referrals. Working with special education teachers, they also helped identify appropriate students for the project. As students arrived, they were enrolled in the project and matched with peers, and support services were initiated. Intakes were conducted and educational plans developed for each student that included goals and objectives, support services that would be provided, and referrals for whatever assessments were indicated.
All students participated either in academic programs or in Adult Basic Education classes, and some were linked with work-study positions on campus.
During the second year, faculty became more aware of the project through having its students in their classes, and they began to access the projects resources more. In addition, workshops were provided for faculty that dealt with a full range of topics related to disability. Adjunct faculty were encouraged to participate through the use of training stipends which paid for their attendance; this significantly increased the number of faculty members who attended. Work with students continued, with similar activities to those used during the first year, and the number of students participating increased more than 30%.
During the third year, the number of students again increased, and more students began to experience success in achieving their goals. With the project firmly established on campus, staff began working more closely with faculty and other offices providing student services. Faculty in-service trainings continued, with an emphasis on changing perceptions and attitudes towards disability and understanding various types of disabilities and their impact on students, particularly in the classroom. Dissemination activities included production of a faculty handbook on serving students with disabilities, a guide to our experiences in developing the project, and a student guidebook. Additionally, project staff presented a workshop at the National Association of Higher Education and Disability conference. Two of the peers produced a video on the project that was aired on local public access television.
2. Project Director: The project director was responsible for overseeing the adminstration of the project, which included supervision of the Project Manager, Program Specialist, and department secretary; fiscal management; data management, coordinating the in-service activities for faculty; and giving presentations on project activities.
Project Manager: The project manager was responsible for the hiring, training, and ongoing supervision of the peer liaisons; development of the case management model; provision of direct services to project participants;coordination of referrals to the project; and negotiating accommodations between students and faculty. The most important of these components was the training and support provided to the peers, which took their experiences with students and made these into opportunities for learning new skills.
Peer Liaisons: Peer liaisons were responsible for managing a caseload of students, including intake, developing educational and personal goals and a class schedule, and using time management charts and other strategies to help students succeed academically. They also provided peer counseling that encompassed friendship, mentorship, advocacy, and other roles when needed. Peers maintained case files for each student they worked with and made referrals for tutoring, diagnostic testing, or other services.
Additional Staff: The Special Services Tutor provided one-on-one work for students with learning disabilities and other learning disorders who would benefit from individualized learning plans. The Program Specialist provided help in documenting project activities and in arranging in-service trainings and other campus events.
3. Major project activities included work with students, peer liaisons, and the college community as a whole. Students received a comprehensive intake and assessment of their strengths and limitations; a personal educational plan that identified resources which would be used to achieve their goals; peer counseling and help in developing time management, self-advocacy skills and social skills; tutoring and other classroom and testing accommodations; and information and referral to community resources. Peers received training and ongoing supervision in basic counseling skills, accessing community and college resources, assessment and response, and a wide range of disability issues; training in case management; and the opportunity to participate in staffings and other committee meetings. The college community received opportunities that would help them serve students with disabilities, including in-service workshops, conferences on individual students, and access to information support when disability-related concerns arose. They also had the opportunity to participate in cultural events designed to challenge stereotypes about disability.
4. The strongest goal of this project was to serve high-need students with disabilities more effectively than had been done in the past. This was accomplished through intensive one-on-one peer counseling and support. With supervision, the peer liaisons each managed caseloads of approximately 25 students. Training was provided for the peers, and assessment and referral for the students, to support this process. Keys to the success of the project were the staff development provided for the peers and the strong case management follow-along the peers provided for their students.
5. The Access to Success Project was housed in the Special Services department, providing easy communication access between the staff members. Formal weekly meetings were supplemented by a great deal of daily informal communication. The project director, who is also the Director of Special Services, provided supervision to the Project Manager, who oversaw the day-to-day operations of the project. Under the direction of the Project Manager, all staff were involved in project development. Program implementation was provided primarily by the peer liaisons. Additionally, a formal advisory committee met three times a year to discuss overall program issues.
Consultants were used for in-service activities (including staff from the National Center on Deafness and local independent living advocates, mental health counselors, learning disabilities experts, and others active in the disability community) and for educational diagnostic batteries.
6. Dissemination activities and presentations included:
H. Project Evaluation Activities
Our project decided to not use an external evaluator and, with the approval of the project manager at OSER, under-took the project evaluation internally. Several formal evaluations were completed over the course of the three years. The formal evaluations consisted of participant satisfaction surveys, a faculty needs assessment, workshop rating sheets, and outcome evaluations on each goal and objective. See section I Service Delivery Accomplishments for the outcomes of each goal.
Two participant satisfaction surveys were completed. A total of ??participants responded to the surveys which were conducted by telephone. A copy of the student satisfaction survey is included in Appendix A. While a comprehensive report was not written on the results, a summary is provided below.
The surveys looked both at students overall impressions of the Access to Success program and at the helpfulness of specific services they received. Generally their responses were very positive, as evidenced by 65.2% of participants stating that they received as much help as they had expected or even more. Services they used most often included peer liaison support (82.6%), individual tutoring (69.6%), and financial aid assistance (34.8%). When asked if they would like to make greater use of the services, participants included readers (60.9%), testing accommodations (69.6%), career guidance (78.3%), and self-evaluation process (78.3%) in their high-interest lists.
Personal contact was clearly equally important to the project participants, no matter what other services they were receiving. Out of 87% if those reporting, fully 60.9% said they felt their peer support counselor understood them and their needs at the College, and many of the open-ended comments reflected their appreciation of having "someone to talk to, to help me get through problems." The individualized response that peers can provided is particularly crucial given the wide array of common obstacles that students cited in trying to attend school. These included organizing their study time (47.8%), time managment (34.8%), transportation (26.1%), financial planning (47.8%), and job conflicts or feeling overwhelmed with the combined responsibilities of school and work (26.1%).
Since fully 43.4% of the project participants said they had found their previous educational experiences to be either "somewhat difficult" or "very difficult", many come to college wary of what they will find; and 30.4% said they had found their experiences at SFCC "more difficult" than they expected. This demonstrates a clear need for the broad-based services and support that the project offered its participants. Suggestions for improving the program, as shown in the open-ended questions, focused on expansion of services already being offered, particularly tutoring and the use of Peer Liaisons.
Additionally, a faculty survey was completed at the end of year two of the three year funding cycle. One hundred and fifty randomly selected faculty received in their campus mailboxes a survey that looked at both their needs related to teaching students with disabilities in a college setting and their perceptions/attitudes regarding students with disabilities. The survey received a 45.3% response rate. Demographics of the respondents are as follows:
41 full time faculty; 27 part time faculty
26 female; 14 maile
23 white; 4 hispanic; 2 African American
4 disabled; 32 non-disabled
Faculty were asked to respond to a number of questions about their participation in disability awareness training, if they had received materials distributed by the project on disability related issues, and the number of students with disabilities they had encountered in their classes at SFCC. The respondents reported that:
25 (61%) had participated in disability training; 16 (39%) had not
23 (56%) had received the faculty handbook on teaching students with disabilities; 16 (39%) had not
25 (61%) had received handouts from the OSS; 15 (37%) had not
17 (41%) had come into contact with between 1-5 disabled students during their employment at SFCC; 8 (22%) reported 6-10 students; 2 (5%) reported between 11-20 students; 4 (10%) said they had contact with over 20 disabled students. 6 (15%) said they had not come into contact with any disabled students at all during their employment at SFCC.
When asked to identify the types of disabilities they had encountered while teaching at SFCC, the faculty indicated:
34 learning disabilities
26 hearing impairments
21 mobility impairment
21 chronic illness
7 traumatic brain injury
14 visual impairment
14 emotional disorders.
Types of accommodations provided included:
31 allowed extra time on tests
20 had allowed interpreters
18 provided alternate test formats
17 a test location outside of the classroom
6 readers for tests
4 enlarged print on handouts
Offices on campus which assisted faculty in serving students with disabilities:
24 Office of Special Services
21 Developmental Studies tutoring
9 Counseling, 8 Student Services
3 Financial Aid
Faculty Survey Responses
Questions 8 - 25
|Strongly Agree/Agree||Neutral||Disagree/Strongly Disagree|
|8) All faculty offices should be accessible||54%||,02%||n/a|
|9) Faculty should be informed about a students disability prior to the begiining of the semester||45%||.08%||.01%|
|10) I am willing to allow readers for tests||48%||.02%||n/a|
|11) LD students should sometimes be advised against enrolling in particular courses||26%||19%||.08%|
|12) I am willing to enlarge print on all hand-outs||45%||.02%||.04%|
|13) The college should sponsor cultural events performed by people with disabilities||48%||.08%||n/a|
|14) I am willing to provide alternate testing formats, such as orally administered exams||48%||.08%||.01%|
|15) Physically disabiled students should be advised against enrolling in a particular course if their perforance is difficult to evaluate due to the disability||13%||16%||25%|
|16) I am willing to allow variable time limits on tests||52%||01%||n/a|
|17) Disabled students should be required to participate in all major class activities||39%||.08%||.05%|
|18) I would be willing to modify my curriculum (or have already done so ) to introduce disability issues||38%||10%||.07%|
|19) Academic requirements should be modified and substitutions made to accommodate students with disabilities||21%||19%||12%|
|20) I am willing to allow interpreters in class||57%||n/a||n/a|
|21) Faculty should be required to participate in a workshop or semeinar about disability issues||37%||13%||.03%|
|22) I am willing to allow testing in locations outside of the classroom||50%||.01%||.03%|
|23) I am willing to allow notetakers in class||47%||n/a||.07%|
|24) I am willing to discuss with a student how disability affects his/her life generally||49%||.03%||.03%|
|25) I am willing to allow laptop computers, voice synthesizers and other assistive technologies in the classroom||47%||.07%||n/a|
Cross tabulations were run on combinations of variables. Specifically, the demographics and questions 1, 2, 3, and 4 were cross tabulated against questions 5, 6, and 7. Chi Squares were run on the cross tabulations. No previous data were available to compare the results of this survey against. Neither were the attitudes of the population of faculty known. To run the Chi Squares, expected values were developed from observed values. None of the Chi Squares reached statistical significance; observed values did not significantly depart from expected values. Even so, there were results that deserve reporting.
Faculty who participated in awareness training were slightly more likely to report encountering more students with disabilities, accomodating the students in classrooms, and in reporting that OSS and Developmental Studies tutoring provided assistance; Faculty who received a handbook were slightly more likely to report encountering more students with disabilities; Faculty who received handouts were slightly more likely to report encountering more students with disabilities, accommodating the students in classrooms, and in reporting that OSS and Developmental Studies Tutoring provided assistance; Faculty teaching at SFCC under six years were slightly more likely to report that they had attended disability awareness training, had received the faculty handbook on teaching students with disabilities and had received handouts from the OSS; Faculty teaching at SFCC under six years were slightly more likely to report that they had encountered more students with disabilities, accomodated the students in classrooms, and reported that OSS and Developmental Studies tutoring provided assistance.
In summary of the faculty survey,over half of the faculty who responded to the survey had participate in training provided through the project and had received materials produced to assist them in serving students with disabilities in their classrooms. Forty five percent (45%) of the respondents are allowing testing accommodation. Slightly fewer respondents are allowing other types of accommodations in their classrooms but all respondents seemed aware of the need to do this. Thirty five percent (35%) of the factuly reported seeking assistance in serving students with disabilities through the project staff.
Next is an evaluation of the project outcomes by goals and objectives.
Goal 1. Increase the number of minorities with disabilities entering postsecondary
obj. 1: The project had an active steering committee made up of representatives from the public schools, the State Department of Education, and community agencies that serve adults with disabilities. This committee provided guidance and input to the project on a bi-annual basis.
obj. 2: After some minor delays during year one of the project the project staff remained consistent. A project manager and a staff of peer liaisons served the project participants. Seventy percent (70%) of the project staff were people with disabilities.
obj. 3: Ongoing training and support of the peer liaisons proved to be the most successfully method for training them to work with the project participants. The peer liaisons received daily supervision and on-going training in the areas of service orientation, adaptive learning strategies, and documentation/case management. For example, training topics included conducting a comprehensive intake interview, establishing rapport, active listening skills, social/emotional development, and adaptive strategies in the areas of life and study skills
obj. 4: Appropriate secondary school personnel and community-based service providers participated in each of our disability awareness workshops. We worked closely with these service providers to assure that referrals were made. Several meetings each project year took place between project staff, public school staff, and community based agencies. We held a meeting with special education high school teacher each of the funding years to discuss issues such a self determination, college readiness, and college success.
obj. 5: Students and potential students were identified through various sources. Typically referrals were made from instructors, tutors, community-based service providers rehabilitation counselors, campus counselors, special services, secondary school transition coordinators, and by the students themselves. A total of 145 students were referred to the project.
obj. 6: Project participants were enrolled in either adult education or credit classes A total of 120 students participated in the academic programs.
obj. 7: Dissemination materials are enclosed for your review. The materials that were developed include three manuals Access to Success: An Innovative Approach to Community College Peer Counseling, The SFCC Faculty Guide to Working with Students with Disabilities, and the SFCC Students Handbook for Students with Disabilities. These materials have been disseminated to 25 postsecondary demonstration projects nationally and to all the postsecondary disabled students service programs in New Mexico. The model and the results of the project were also disseminated through a presentation at the 1997 AHEAD conference in Boston, Massachutes. A presentation was also made about the project to the NM State Transition Task Force.
Goal 2. Increase the number of minorities with disabilities achieving their education and career goals.
obj. 1: Educational and career plans were developed for each project participant. Also included in their case files were time managment charts, contact notes, an outline of goals and objectives, progress reports regarding their academic programs, and pertinent diagnostic assessments.
obj. 2: Formal cooperative agreements exist between the secondary schools, community mental health providers, and Santa Fe Community College. A memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been developed between Santa Fe Community College, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Labor, Social Security Administration and other agencies serving students with disabilities. This MOU outlines the roles and responsibilities of each of the agencies in transitioning students with disabilties into a postsecondary setting. A fee for service agreement is pending with the area DVR office.
obj. 3: Educational needs assessments were completed with each project participant during the initial intake interview. More comprehensive diagnostic assessments including assistive technology assessments were completed on an as needed basis. Approximately, 36 fully educational diagnostic batteries were completed for project participants.
obj. 4.: Cooperative working relationships across campus were established and nutured during the course of the project. Case management meetings were held with the Counseling Services Department and the Title III outreach and retention staff. Departments on campus such as Early Childhood Development, Financial Aid, Career Placement, Adult Education and the Instruction Division all worked closely with the project participants.
obj. 5: :Project participants were referred to the appropriate agencies for assistance with housing and transportation on an as needed basis. Many project participants accessed the paratransit program and housing subsidies while in the program.
obj. 6: This objective was modified after year one of the project. We found that it made more sense for the peer liaisons to serve as mentors as this was already largely their role. Each project participant met with his or her peer liaison a least weekly but often more frequently than that.
obj. 7: The Access to Success project was housed in the Disabled Students Services program. This allowed for regular case staffings and access to all academic support services. Project participants recieved individualized support services and also were assisted in accessing resources from other service providers on campus. All project participants received some level of support services in addition to project services.
obj. 8: During the course of the project, SFCC established a career placement office within the Career Development Center. Project participants were able to access this office and received assistance with work-study placements and referrals to off campus job. Participants also attended the career fair each academic year. In addition, project staff conducted in-service activities with the career/placement staff on issues specific to working with students with disabilities. Career/placement staff also participated in the disabilitiy awareness workshops sponsored by the project.
Goal 3. Increase the ability of postsecondary institutions to serve minorities with disabilities by educating faculty and staff in disability culture and accommodations.
obj. 1: All part-time faculty participating in staff development activities sponsored by the project were eligible to receive either a training stipend or professional development points. About 95 faculty, staff, and tutors participated in training. Information on specific disability issues is distributed to facu in their faculty mailboxes. Several workshops related to disability aware provided each semester.
obj. 2: As noted in the year two continuation report, the Access to Success project was not able to come to an agreement on fees with the Institute on Disability Culture. Workshops were provided by comparable contractors with background and expertise in disability awareness and disability culture. See section H for a list of the workshops that were presented during the course of the project. In an effort to raise awareness about the disability culture movement, in year three, a dance performance was sponsored featuring Light Motion and the Buen Viaja Dancers. Both dance troups combine disabled and non-disabled dancers. This performance was attended by about 90 people on campus and proved very effective in shifting the ways people think about disability. In addition, a resource library was developed with videos, books and journals on Disability Culture and disability rights.
obj. 3: In cooperation with the technology service center on campus, we made assistive technology available to students and faculty. We worked closely with faculty to assure that classroom and testing accommodations were proved on an as-needed basis. The most effective training with faculty tended to be one-on-one interactions about a particular student. This allowed us to explain to the instructor the specific dynamics that there interfering with this students success and recommend specific strategies for addressing students needs.
obj. 4: As mentioned above, during the course of the project, SFCC established a career placement office within the Career Development Center. Project participants were able to access this office and received assistance with work-study placements and referrals to off campus job. Participants also attended the career fair each academic year. In addition, project staff conducted in-service activities with the career/placement staff on issues specific to working with students with disabilities. Career/placement staff also participated in the disabilitiy awareness workshops sponsored by the project.
I. Service Delivery Accomplishments
1. The three major goals of the project focused on recruitment, retention, and success of students with complex disabilities in an academic setting. For the most part, our original expectations were either met or exceeded. We served 30% more students than we had targeted; most of these were either previously enrolled at the college or had expressed strong interest in attending, so outside recruitment was less of a priority than originally anticipated. 145 students were referred to the project with 120 receiving services after intake. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of the project participants met their state goals with 9.2% not meeting their goals.
Goal 1 focused on establishing a college peer counseling model, using four students with disabilities who had overcome significant personal obstacles of their own. These students would be trained in a variety of skills and given full case management responsibilities for a group of approximately 25 students. Particularly for those students who had more serious and complex needs, this model was extremely effective; it helped them not only with academic preparation, tutoring, and other support, but also with problem-solving strategies, self-examination, and the development of social skills. It also provided opportunities for social interaction, which many of the students had not experienced and would not have received without the project. The Access Club, which became an official club on campus, held regular social events for students with disabilities and used bake sales and information tables to increase their visibility within the college community.
The skill levels of the individual peer liaisons were a crucial factor in meeting this goal. They came to the project with outstanding interpersonal skills and experience in taking leadership roles: one had spent years coaching sports teams in the public schools; another had worked as a nanny and built homes for Habitat for Humanity; another had previous peer counseling experience. All had strong natural abilities to listen, empathize, and learn from the feedback they received in supervision.
Having ongoing training available was also an important factor. The fact that the Program Manager was available to listen in during sessions and to provide immediate and concrete feedback and assessment became an invaluable part of the counseling process.
Goal 2 focused on the success of the students in reaching goals they had set for themselves. Most of the students major goals were related to academics, with behavioral, life skills, and vocational goals alongside these. As mentioned above, 89% of the project participants met their stated goals.
Some of the keys to achieving these outcomes were the quality of the student-peer interactions, which allowed timely interventions when problems arose in the students lives; good collaboration with other campus resources, and with community resources when needed; and a basic respect for whatever goals the student wished to undertake. Each student defined "success" for himself, without pressure from project staff to fit into a rigidly defined goal structure.
The peers demonstrated an ongoing commitment to their students as well, trying many different approaches and making it clear to the students that they would not give up on them under any circumstances. In turn, students were willing to trust this level of commitment because they felt the peers understood them better than care providers who did not have disabilities. In interviews for our peer counseling manual, all of the peers commented on this dynamic:
"I actually went through a period of seven years when I was hibernating from the world, and I was fairly hesitant to come back out. So when I have had clients who are also hesitant about going into the world, I can empathize about how frightening this world can be."
"I have that to offer my students: I can say yes, its hard, and I know how hard it is. It just might have a silver lining that you might appreciate in the long run, though. If you dont know what it is right now, thats okay."
The peers taught the students many aspects of self-advocacy and self-respect, often by modeling effective techniques. As one peer said, "Sharing my experiences of the mental health system and showing people step by step how to advocate for themselves, having them watch me in my everyday experience, I feel that Ive used my own challenges in life to a great extent in the peer counseling."
Goal 3 focused on increasing the institutions ability to serve students with disabilities. This was accomplished by providing a general educational effort for faculty and staff that included written handouts and manuals, in-service activities and cultural events, and consultations with individual faculty members. This goal was the most difficult of the three to accomplish, because approximately 87% of the SFCC faculty are adjunct. Most instructors have several jobs and hectic schedules that to not allow them to attend workshops and other college events. To offset this somewhat, we offered a training stipend for their participation, and this did increase the number of attendees. We issued approximately 150 training stipends to part-time instructors who attending one or more of the following trainings.
Workshops were offered at least once each semester, and topics included:
In addition, special events for the entire campus were held to increase awareness of the parameters of disability. These included a dance performance by two dance troupes with disabled dancers, an evening of films, and a Disability Awareness Day on campus.
3. The Access to Success project provided a variety of academic support services to community college students with disabilities. The service delivery system differed from traditional student support services by providing casemanagement to each participant. This allowed the project staff to monitor closely students needs and intervene in a timely manner.
Each project participant completed a comprehensive intake interview and assessment. During this process an educational plan was developed which outlined the students goals,objectives and the types of services that would be required for the student to reach their goals. All students were assigned to a Peer Liaison and received peer counseling, self advocacy training, problem solving skill training, and interpersonal skill development. Other services that were provided include information and referral, life skills training, tutoring, classroom and testing accommodations, advocacy with faculty and staff, and professional and career counseling.
Project participants were identified through referrals from the Office of Special Services, faculty, counseling staff, DVR and other community based service providers. In the course of the intake interview, assessment and data collection process a determination was made regarding the degree of need associated with their disability. All participants chosen had significant deficits in their social/emotional development that undermined their ability to function in a college setting. Participants required instruction and support in basic student success behaviors such as attendence, preparation for homework and exams, being accountable for classroom participation including appropriate interactions with instructors and other students. Based on the range of disability and the nature of the problematic behaviors, participants were assigned to a Peer Liaison whose strengths matched the students needs. Through ongoing staffings and oversight, student progress was evaluated and adjustments were made accordingly. Students entered the project with low academic skills and complicated social/emotional needs and were assigned to a closely monitored caseload and would meet with their Peer Liaison one to three times a week as determined by need.
The demographics of the project participants are as follows:
1. Age Ranging from 18 to 65 years old; median age 25 years.
2. Gender 86 male and 54 female
3. Grade or diploma attainment 79 high school graduates and 61 special education diplomas or non-high school graduates.
4. Handicapping conditions 54 learning disabled, 22 psychiatric disabilities, 20 developmentally disabled, 17 tramatic brain injured, 19 physically disabled, 4 speech/language, 4 hearing or visual impaired.
5. Transition planning Each project participant transitioned into a postsecondary program.
6. Engagement in postsecondary education Each of the project participants was
involved in an educational program in a postsecondary setting. The academic skill levels required in the programs ranged from basic literacy skills to college level. Participants were placed in a an academic program depending on both their academic and social/emotional skill levels.
Project participants were involved in activities that focused on improving basic academic skills, increasing employability skills and developing appropriate social skills.
Activities included: comprehensive intake interview and screening; assessed various skill levels and developed academic goals and accommodation needs; peer counseling which focused on "successful student skills" such as time managment, accessing campus and community resources, study skills, problem solving skills, and interpersonal skills; a campus club for students with disabilities; self advocacy training in requesting appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
4. Following are several vignettes about students served through the project:
* Dan, a 19-year-old special education graduate, came to SFCC through the "I Have a Dream" program. His full scholarship required him to take at least 12 credit hours of classes. Diagnosed as LD/SED, his evaluations showed cognitive functioning ranging from second to ninth-grade levels, and emotionally, he seemed very angry and socially immature. During his first semester, he was identified by many of his instructors as being hostile and verbally threatening in class, and project staff often intervened to negotiate for him. Dan began regular meetings with a peer liaison to help him organize his classwork and receive intensive tutoring. Eventually, the work also began to focus on his antisocial affect and behavior, and he began to develop a greater awareness of the effects that his behavior and defensive attitude had on others. Using his martial arts training as a base, the counseling also focused on developing a sense of inner peace and demonstrating this in his actions. As his organizational and time management skills strengthened, his self-esteem rose, and he felt more in control of his performance in class.
Over the course of the next three semesters, he made consistent academic progress and made a number of friendships with other students. Presently, his behavior in class is much more controlled; he not only contributes to class discusssions but is able to listen to and comment on what other students say. After initially losing three jobs in quick succession, he has now maintained a work-study position for approximately a year. He is able to advocate for his own needs in arranging testing accommodations and scheduling tutoring sessions. He feels much better about his capabilities and his life overall.
* Jose, a 26-year-old Hispanic, was diagnosed learning disabled while in public schools, with grade equivalencies at the third to eighth-grade level. When he entered SFCC, he was extremely shy and demonstrated very limited verbal skills; it was difficult for him to follow instructions. Starting in courses three levels below college level, he was nevertheless determined to gain access to the college classes. After several semesters of being "on his own" at the college, he reached a level where he could not successfully complete the course work on his own. He was failing some of his classes and sought out Special Services for help. His weekly sessions with a peer liaison focused on practical tutoring for his courses and work in study skills and time management, with methodical planning and systematic study techniques being a priority. He began to share his experiences of being ostracized and humiliated while in high school, and as he felt understood by the peer liaison, he began to develop a different self-image, which helped lead to better class performance.
He has now passed both English and math classes at college levels, putting in an enormous amount of extra study time to accomplish this, and he wants to pursue a degree in sports medicine. He goes back to his old high school regularly and talks to special education students to encourage them to work hard towards their goals and to persist in their ambitions. He is noticeably less shy and has established several good friendships while at the college.
* Marie, a 33-year-old diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder/personality disorder, came to the project feeling highly traumatized and expressing suicideal ideation because of emotional mood swings, erratic academic performance, and an overall inability to cope with the many stresses in her life. Over the course of ten years spent trying to pass preliminary academic courses, she had made little progress towards her goal of majoring in video production. She had been barred from the communications technology department because of her failure to follow the rules of conduct there, and her dress and overall demeanor were inappropriate for a college setting. When Marie began working with a peer liaison, sometimes daily, she immediately felt understood by her counselor, who also has a mental illness. Her peer counselor pushed her to excel and to open up to others, frequently calling her at home to encourage her to get out of bed and attend class or to remind her of appointments. Through the course of this work, she was able to stabilize herself more emotionally and to function through the cycles of her illness, continuing successfully in her classes instead of dropping out.
She has now passed the majority of her general college requirements and has done well in several video production classes as well. She has become actively involved in the mental health consumer movement, taking significant control over her treatment.
J. Model-Building Accomplishments
Three aspects of the project emerged as unique and important pieces of the model. First, was using peers as skilled professional helpers. From its inception, the Access to Success Project was seen as a unique venture in allowing students with disabilities to train as paraprofessionals while they provided peer counseling and other services to our community college students. Selecting peers whose skills were sophisticated enough to manage all aspects of the job proved to be critical. The peers got work experience as tutors and also as case managers, as they were networking in the larger community and helping their clients deal with family issues. All of them found this aspect of the experience a very valuable one, and all have expressed interest in continuing to work in social service areas.
Second, was combining intensive, flexible support with a case-management model. The project was also particularly effective in providing support for students with complex disabilities and low-level academic skills. These students often became lost within the larger campus system, and even those who made friends and accessed the colleges mainstream counseling services felt significantly left out. By starting with an overall appreciation of their cleints, combined with a fundamentally client-centered approach that went well beyond simply focusing on whatever task was at hand, the peer cousnelors promoted a definition of success that was independent of any specific academic outcome. In providing the various support services, there emerged an underling dynamic, which was a sense of being included and supportted in a personal way. Therefore, students had positive experiences, whether they kept and passed their classes (and many did) or withdrew.
With our close-knit team of peer liaisons engaged in ongoing mini-staffings, each peer became familiar with all of our students, so that even when peers were in and out of the office, someone was always available with words of encouragement when students would drop in after a particularly hard day, or before a diffiuclt exam, or when they were excited about sharing some good news. This day-to-day consistency in service delivery created very strong bonds among everyone involved.
Thirdly, promoting new ways of seeing people with disabilities. In the larger picture, we made efforts to address how students with disabilities were perceived by the campus as a whole. Toward this end, the increasingly high profile of the peers on campus was combined with campus events that were targeted to focus on peopleslong-held beliefs and prejudices. Workshops were held on topics that challenged traditional views about people with disabilities and helped raise the level of campus awareness of the range of possibilities open to students with disabilities.
We expect that the project model we have described would prove useful in almost any educational setting, being that many elements of what is expected in college vary little from one institution to another. Many students with disabilities have been in special education systems for many years before they start college, and their preparation on many levels has been relatively weak. They are often less independent, less confident, and less able to take significant levels of responsibility. Therefore the model is highly generalizable.
What makes the model particularly strong is the intensive support provided by peers that covers all student needs that are relevant to academic success. Having people with disabilities support each other and act as role models leads to a very high level of trust that allows many issues to emerge that would not otherwise. Even in settings where professional counselors are in relatively short supply, this model could be effective implemented.
While we have not yet been asked to assist another college in establishing a project such as our, as mentioned above, it could be easily tailored to any campus setting. The costs of a project such as this would include one full-time project manager and between 2 to 4 peer liaisons ($9.00/hr x 15 hrs/week). This would allow for the peer support aspects of the program and much of the work with faculty but would not allow for contract staff such as presenters, diagnosticians and so forth.
We are continuing to operate a scaled down version of the project since the OSER funding period has ended. We have been able to maintain the project manager at 100% and two peer liaisons at 25 hours/wk. The contact information for the project is:
Jill Douglass or Dennis Matsui
Santa Fe Community College
6401 Richards Ave.
Santa Fe, NM 87504