A year-round learning experience for individuals with learning disabilities begins at Ferris State University during the Fall 2021 semester. Grand Rapids-based Ready for Life plans to bring partnership and its curriculum to a third Michigan postsecondary education institution.
Ferris is poised to be the first public university to offer this career training, instruction on responsible citizenship and guidance on independent living, said the university’s Office of Transfer and Secondary School Partnerships Director DeeDee Stakley.
“These students will be given the opportunity to audit two Ferris classes each semester, with the rest of their curriculum provided by the Ready for Life Academy,” Stakley said. “A six-credit course load in the summer semester will allow these students to live on campus as they build toward completing their certificate. Parents tell us they believe a two-year program will be most beneficial for their students who participate. We want to avoid any regression in their learning, so a year-round program is optimal. When possible, students will be able to choose pass/fail options, so that they might earn a certificate in Hospitality or another program and better position themselves for employment.”
Emily Perton, executive director of Ready for Life, said the nonprofit plans to present an inclusive community at Ferris for approximately 15 students during the program’s first year.
“The Ready for Life Academy content will address subjects such as budgeting, personal relationships, pursuing life as an individual and lifelong management approaches,” Perton said. “We plan to combine that learning with providing them Peer Connections, which will present valuable mentorship and or internship experience to Ferris students in Social Work programs and disciplines such as Education, or Psychology.”
Stakley said when Ferris’ Ready for Life Academy instruction begins, it will cap two years of preparatory work. The work started after President David Eisler learned about the program’s efforts at Calvin University and Hope College.
“We started the groundwork with the President’s Office, along with the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs’ staff, and look forward to working with our new Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Bobby Fleischman,” Stakley said. “During the Spring 2021 semester, final touches concerning campus preparedness and collaboration with university departments will be completed so we can offer a valuable and well-rounded experience for these students in the fall. Training sessions for Ferris faculty and staff will be created in collaboration with the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning and the Staff Center for Training and Development.”
Perton said the Calvin program moves from an offering where their students live at home, or in other arrangements, to living on campus. A Transition Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow their Calvin participants to have greater contact with and presence in the campus community. Stakley said Ferris would seek similar support but plans for its Ready for Life students to be on campus from the inception of this program.
“We see having a 15-student group of first-year students living together in North Hall,” she said. “That location affords RFLA@FSU participants easy access to dining, the Arts and Sciences Complex and other important facilities. The Center for Leadership, Activities and Career Services will be a partner in acclimating the Ferris student body as we establish Ready for Life. That will include offering appropriate information about the program and the opportunity to build career skills by working with participants in peer connection roles.”
Sandy Baker, who will be Ready for Life’s lead Ferris instructor, said that support mechanism is a valuable component in helping these students feel connected to campus and more confident in their pursuits.
“Collegiate mentors will help our participants be successful when they experience cooking, doing their laundry, or develop their time management skills,” Baker said. “We want to have our students capable of managing daily tasks on the job or at home, which is a great comfort for themselves and their families.”
Stakley said student mentors could also complete internships to support Ready for Life training, do field studies or engage in other activities that would help broaden their resumes.
“Our plans include establishing a dedicated space on campus that will be staffed weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Stakley said. “It will serve as a touchpoint for personal development and provide space for students to work with mentors and increase sociability. We are examining opportunities to incorporate virtual reality, which will be a chance for program participants to unify with other students.”
An advisory committee for this program is already in place, with leaders from Housing and Residence Life, the Dean of Student Life office, eLearning, Educational Counseling, Career Counseling, and Disability Services joining the Office of Transfer and Secondary School Partnerships in the examination of the plans.
“We want to do this well, from the first semester Ready for Life is offered,” Stakley said. “Twenty high schools, charter academies and regional educational operations are being apprised of our program and plans. This includes systems in west-central Michigan and extends to the Cadillac, Ludington and Traverse City areas. We intend to offer a comprehensive transition program with accreditation from Think College, a national organization that coordinates training. We are also communicating with Michigan Community Mental Health offices and Michigan Rehabilitation Services to network and identity prospects for this training.”
Feelings of excitement about the future are mutual.
“We are so glad to these accommodations established for students in Ferris’ program,” Perton said. “We will see that our staff and the students from campus who support them are trained to accomplish the Academy’s goals and enrich the lives of each participant.”