Alvernia prepares students to access accommodations for college success

Local high school students and Alvernia accessibility counselors celebrate the closing ceremony of 'Transition Week'

Alvernia University hosted two Transition Weeks (July 10-14 and 24-28) for local high school juniors and seniors from Berks and Schuylkill counties who qualify for services through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following the program, 84% of attendees indicated that they are applying to college after the program while 15% of attendees were already accepted or enrolled at various colleges.

“I met with transition coordinators from Governor Mifflin, Conrad Weiser and Schuylkill Valley and asked them what type of programs they feel are needed for students who have disabilities as they transition out of high school,” said Alvernia University Director of Accessibility Services, Andrea Swift, Ed.D.

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“They mentioned the idea of an immersive college experience to inform the students about what is expected at college and to help them build confidence to succeed. I had no doubt that the staff and faculty at Alvernia would welcome the students and help them realize their potential with an inclusive mindset. There was also a Transition Academy Day organized by Dr. Lucinda (Luci) Schaeffer in April.”

The immersive college experience was coordinated by Alvernia’s Office of Accessibility Services and the Reading Youth Initiative, run by Swift and Angela Drebushenko, community educational outreach programs manager, respectively. The program guided students through the high school to college transition and set them up for success in higher education regardless of their college choice and life circumstances through a series of seminars and activities. All parents and guardians were invited and participated in the closing day of the program.

“As a former special education teacher, I think this program is a great way for these students to get a jump on what is expected at college as well as what services they can utilize,” said Tracey Hersh, mother of Alex Hersh, who participated in the program. “My son was offered this camp through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). The fact that it was no cost to us was a huge factor. I also felt it would be good for Alex to learn about the services he could access at college. I liked that he got a notebook of information that we can use as a reference once he starts college. Alex had a lot of fun and still talks about some of the activities he participated in. I would definitely recommend this to other students.”

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Swift and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences, Elizabeth Matteo, Ph.D., attended the May meeting of the Berks County Transition Coordinating Council and worked with the OVR to develop the program to expose students to the various areas of college life. The OVR also referred 20 students to the program. Swift and Matteo will present the program’s success to the Berks County Transition Coordinating Council.

“I was very excited to learn that Alvernia was hosting a summer experience for students with disabilities that addressed topics that are essential for postsecondary success,” said Schuylkill Valley High School Transition Coordinator, Crystal Cammauf, who secured participants and assisted with the program. “Even though educators can talk about what college is like with students, it is not the same as an authentic experience. Having a week on campus will not only help students adjust to college, but it will increase their confidence and help them find success. I am so thankful that Alvernia developed this experience and look forward to sending students to it each summer.”

Attendees learned how to disclose disability and accessibility accommodations, how to build an inclusive environment, explored careers and academic programs, how to develop skills through clubs and activities, and experienced fun-based activities, including goat yoga, a trip to a theme park and an escape room adventure. Ten Alvernia undergraduate students who are familiar with accommodations and maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher served as the program counselors, facilitating seminars and activities, while sharing their journey in securing accommodations to further facilitate the knowledge that the program provides.

“I learned that I could talk to the people who help students with disabilities and share the accommodations I need at college,” said Alex Hersh, a graduate of the program. “My favorite skill-building activity was the escape room. My favorite leisure activity was going to Hersheypark… I also liked hanging out with all the counselors, especially Dave. It was a fun week.”

Next year, Alvernia’s Office of Accessibility Services will host four one-week-long programs in June 10-14, June 17-21, July 29-Aug 2 and Aug 5-9. Students outside of Berks and Schuylkill counties are also welcome. Interested students and parents can contact the OVR or their local school district’s transition coordinator.

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