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Inclusive College Experience

Recently I was taking a walk-through Hope College’s campus. As I walked, I came across a mentor from the Ready for Life program. We talked about how she had been listening to the Hope College radio station and heard one of the Ready For Life students broadcasting his weekly radio show. She asked me about a graduate from last year, and I had the pleasure of sharing how she was employed and living with some other graduates of Ready For Life. We parted ways, and I kept walking. I soon encountered one of the Ready for Life students hurrying to get to her dance class. I walked on and came across a Hope College professor who shared he was eager for basketball season to get started and how thankful he was to have one of the Ready for Life guys help out with the team. I ended my walk at the Ready For Life classroom where ten Ready for Life students and five mentors were playing board games on a Friday afternoon. In my ten-minute walk across campus, I was able to see the effect the Ready or Life program has!

Ready For Life Academy provides an inclusive college experience for adults with intellectual disabilities at both Hope and Calvin College. The program was established to provide an inclusive transition option for students ages 18-26. This Spring we have 12 students at Hope College and 5 students at Calvin College. The students audit 2 college classes each semester. They also take life-skill/transition classes taught by a certified special education teacher. They volunteer on campus or out in the community starting their sophomore year in the 4-year program. On top of the educational experience, the students are also gaining social skills through relationships with mentors on campus. Each semester between the 2 campus’ we have 30-40 college students who mentor the Ready For Life students. The students engage in many different clubs and activities on the campus where they are having an opportunity to receive the college experience.

At Ready For Life we desire to give students a place where they belong. We want them to know they make a difference and that when they are absent, we miss them. Once the students feel connected to the college community, they can believe in themselves and learn how to become independent adults. Throughout their four years in the program they gain the skills necessary to achieve the two goals of the program: independent living and paid employment.

As a mother of two young boys with Down Syndrome and the Executive Director of Ready For Life, I desire for them to have an enriched life with every opportunity available to them. I must admit when we adopted our oldest son with Down Syndrome we didn’t think about him attending college. I am not sure if we thought much past kindergarten when he was twenty-one months. But now as he, nine years old, and his brother, six years old, are attending school with their peers and experiencing inclusion, I envision them experiencing college life following High School. The requirements needed to get into the Ready For Life program are now the long-term goals we share at their IEP meetings. Our boys see themselves on a college track; Nico is determined to go to Calvin, and Gus is determined to go to Hope – apparently, we will be a house divided.

If you are interested in learning more about your child’s future as a college student, check out the Ready For Life program at rflnetwork.org, or sign-up to come to our “Visit Day” at Calvin College on Friday, March 9, 2018, at rflnetwork.org/events.

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