Monday, September 18, 2000

Special ed students take NKU classes




By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Brandi Gugel and Connie Bray are going to college. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the two 19-year-old Campbell County High School special education students trek over to Northern Kentucky University for a University 101 class.

        Brandi, a junior in high school, and Connie, a senior, are among the first participants in a pilot program aimed at giving older special education students a peek at college life.

        Area educators are working to expand the program, called NKU Connect, to a regional effort that would put high school special education students across Northern Kentucky in university classrooms.

        Special education teachers Jan Lester and Vanessa Groneck teamed with NKU to find opportunities for their students, ages 18 to 21, to interact with youth their age.

        “That's an age group that's sometimes forgotten. After 18, there's really not a lot for them,” said Jon Draud, NKU's director of school and university partnerships. “This gives them

        exposure to a world that they might not get exposed to.”

        Kentucky's public schools offer services to special education students up to 21 years old. Most of Ms. Lester and Ms. Groneck's students take more than four years to complete high school, and many will probably never attend a college or university.

        Yet they watch other students their age and younger pass them by, graduate and go on to college or jobs.

        By attending a class at the university, the students build on academic and social skills while boosting their self-esteem, said Ms. Lester, a teacher at Campbell County High.

        “They feel proud of themselves because they're in college,” she said. “The more chances we can give them to shine in other areas, the better it is for them.”

        At Ms. Lester and Ms. Groneck's request, the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services is leading efforts to expand the program regionwide. A committee of special education directors, teachers, superintendents and NKU staff are working on a proposal to present to school districts early next year.

        The goal is to start the expanded program next fall, said Bernie Sandfoss, director of the cooperative. If enough districts are interested, the cooperative may hire a full-time teacher and an assistant to oversee the program.

        Modeling a similar partnership between Jessamine County Schools and Asbury College, Ms. Lester and Ms. Groneck, a former Bellevue High School teacher now at Grandview Elementary, teamed up in spring of 1999, taking some of their students to the university for tours and other activities. The following spring four students, in cluding Connie, took a class at the campus.

        Although they're not officially enrolled in the college course and are not paying tuition, Connie and Brandi participate in their University 101 class and do assignments, which are adapted to their needs.

        Both teens said they're thrilled to be attending the college class and show off their NKU student IDs often.

        They said they're learning how to take notes and send e-mail, touring the library and health center, making new friends and interacting with NKU faculty.

        Plus, their classmates are learning from them.

        “It's been a positive experience,” said Dan Henry, Connie and Brandi's University 101 instructor. “Some of my students have never interacted with challenged individuals before. Both groups are getting something out of it.”

       



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