CCS Program gives students with disabilities real-life experience

The+students+of+the+Career+and+Community+Studies+program+at+Kent+State+gather+in+White+Hall+on+April+18%2C+2016+for+class.

The students of the Career and Community Studies program at Kent State gather in White Hall on April 18, 2016 for class.

Alexandra Seibt

With 10 students currently in the program—and another 12 attending in the fall—Kent State’s Career and Community Studies (CCS) is a non-degree college program that allows students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to take college courses and experience college.

“It’s a really cool experience for me to be at Kent State,” said Sean Giannetti, a freshman in the CCS program. “Even though with (all the) work, I actually love coming here.”

In 2008, the Department of Higher Education reenacted the Higher Education Opportunity Act. According to thinkcollege.net, “This law contains a number of important new provisions that improve access to postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities.”

The act provided Kent State with grant money to create the CCS program. The first group of students in the program started in 2011 as freshmen.

“Here at Kent State, we wanted (CCS) to look just like what most four-year college students get,” said Yvonne Michali, director of CCS. “That four-year experience of all the opportunities and all the things that a wonderful, big campus provides.”

In the CCS program, students have the opportunity to take a variety of different classes in different colleges.

“We teach the students predominantly … self determination skills the skills to identify if there is something in their life that needs to be changed and then how to go about doing that,” said Cynthia Kenyon, an academic instructor for CCS. “The different steps would be to teach them how to make choices and decisions, set goals, how (to) self-regulate and self-monitor so that they’re getting to those goals, attaining goals mainly self-awareness, self-advocacy. Self-awareness is key to learning any of those skills.”

Students in the program also have the ability to live in residence halls on campus.

“My favorite part of the CCS program would definitely have to be living in a dorm. It gives (you) so much more freedom and it’s a different community,” said Brady Stevens, a freshman in the CCS program. “It was a little overwhelming once you moved into the dorm at first because it’s a new place, a new home and you’re not quite used to it, so you have to give yourself a couple of weeks to get used to it and then it makes you feel better.”

A lot of their time spent in the program is also preparing for the Person-Centered Planning (PCP) meeting.

Career & Community Studies from Alex Seibt on Vimeo.

“The students focus every year on presenting at their own Person-Centered Planning meeting,” Kenyon said. “That is a practice that is used very often in special education because it gives the student the opportunity to voice what it is they’re planning for their future rather than somebody else telling them what their future is going to be like.”

The students will put together a PowerPoint to present. Through their classes, they have been learning verbal and nonverbal communication skills and will apply those skills in the presentation.

“(They) sit down with a group a people who we say are their ‘inner-circle of supports,’ so those would be the people in their life that are going to help them get to reach their goal, in what direction they want to go,” she said.

The CCS program also has peer mentors to assist them in their classes and be a friend to the students.

“This program can’t run without the dedication and commitment of all of our undergraduate mentors,” Michali said. “They come and they are the ones that work side-by-side with the students; tutoring them, going out to lunches with them, going to ballgames with them … they want to hang out (with) their own peers.”

Michali also said most—but not all— of the students who are peer mentors are special education or education majors. However, students can be in any major to be a peer mentor in CCS.

“(The CCS program has helped) by having a mentor with me, going from class to class because even though I know how to get to class, sometimes … it helps me with crossing the street,” Gianetti said.

CCS will continue to add students to the program until it reaches 45 to 50 students. 

Alexandra Seibt is the EEHS reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]