PAC expands disability services to full college-level program
In fall 2016, Palo Alto College began offering unique post-secondary educational access to individuals with intellectual disabilities, and it's the first program of its kind in San Antonio. The new pilot program is called Project Access, in which a cohort of students with disabilities take college-level courses to eventually earn their General Office Level 1 Certificate and acquire necessary skills for gainful employment.
“The goal is to help these students do something with their future,” said Cindy Morgan, coordinator of student success for Disability Support Services (DSS). “I’ve gotten to spend time with the students and realized that it is making an impact on their lives.”
The program launched with seven high-functioning students with disabilities enrolled, all of whom have returned for their second semester and have already made great strides. Working toward the 16-credit certificate from the College’s business program, the students take two eight-week courses each semester and are scheduled to complete the program in December 2017. Business instructor Sylvia de Hoyos and student development instructor Rose Zambrano are working closely with the students to to help make them successful in college, business, and future job searching.
“They don’t want to be treated differently; they want to know that they are in college,” said de Hoyos. “They receive all the college-level curriculum. It is modified in delivery perhaps, but certainly not in content.”
The courses are stackable – meaning students could use the college credits to continue their education and earn other certificates or even an associate degree. As the program grows, Project Access is planning to partner with other academic programs as well.
With one semester completed, the students, parents, and instructors say the students’ lives are changing. They are not only gaining confidence in their new skills, but also forming friendships with their fellow students. Project Access recently held an open house for family and community members, and gave the students the opportunity to share their experience.
“It’s helped my personality and my way of talking to people,” said Project Access student participant Jacob Martinez. “I have been given the skills to show who I really am, to know what it’s like to live a normal life, what it’s like to begin a fresh start, and now I have shown great responsibility for my future.”
Project Access will expand to a cohort of ten students beginning Fall 2017. Until then, the Project Access team will host information sessions, develop relationships with community partners, and build an advisory board to help guide the growth of the program to meet the needs of the community. Morgan said there is already a lot of interest, and she is receiving countless calls and emails from people interested in the program.
“There’s a lot of prep work that’s gone into this, but definitely lots of opportunities as well,” said Morgan.
The students agree.
“Anybody with a disability can attend Palo Alto and be successful,” said Project Access student Jessica Giddens. “I have a disability which is Down Syndrome, and I’m successful. I tell people don’t limit me, and I tell all people with disabilities — don’t limit yourself.”