North Fond du Lac, Moraine Park Tech team up to help adult students with disabilities

May 19, 2014

From fdlreporter.com: “North Fond du Lac and Moraine Park team up to help adult students with disabilities” — Hunter Develice of Fond du Lac has a dream of someday working as an animator for Walt Disney Studios.

The 19-year-old is looking forward to a career, but at the same time he is among a growing number of young adults with disability who need help transitioning into college life. Every day he deals with both the positive and negative aspects of autism.

“I want people to know that living with autism is just different,” he said. “When my brain works differently I have a hard time understanding things like jokes. I can get frustrated when there is too much information at one time.”

His mother, Laurie Develice, is a member of Fond du Lac County Community on Transitions and decided to bring up the lack of programming in the area for students like her son.

“These kids want to go on to post-secondary training but they need to be able to do certain things like identify themselves with a disability and advocate for themselves,” she said.

She caught the ear of board member Jana Weigandt, who serves as special education teacher and transition coordinator for the North Fond du Lac School District. The two visited Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay to view a program run in cooperation with CESA 7. The program has grown significantly in seven years and serves 18- to 21-year-olds with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“I instantly fell in love with the program and told our Superintendent Aaron Sadoff about it and he was all for it,” Weigandt said. “He said as a school district we will do whatever it takes to make this happen.”

Program start

Learning for Independence will be offered this fall at Moraine Park Technical College in conjunction with the North Fond du Lac School District. The program is designed for students who have completed four years of high school but need help bridging the gap from high school into the post-secondary educational setting or workforce.

The goal is to help students gain confidence and learn skills to better advocate for themselves, not only in a college setting but also in the community, said Laurie Develice. Very often students with disabilities end up with much higher unemployment rates.

“These kids need some help with social skills. This program acts as a bridge and gives kids an opportunity to be in that inclusive environment taught by adjunct professors” Laurie Develice said.

Bonnie Bauer, director of admissions at MPTC, said three non-credit classes will be offered each semester. The first courses will be self-determination, technology basics and personal safety. If enough students enroll, they can continue in the program the following year, she said.

“Students will benefit from being in an age-appropriate environment,” Bauer said. “I’m most excited that they will be able to participate in all student life activities and really get a feel for college.”

The North Fond du Lac School District will serve as the fiscal agent for the program.

School districts in Wisconsin are required to educate a student with disabilities until the age of 21, so the student’s school district will pay for the cost of the program, somewhere between $3,000 to $3,500. All students will receive a Chromebook. Between eight and 15 students are expected the first year.

Barb Zimmerman, retired transition coordinator for the Rosendale-Brandon School District, will serve as program director.

Looking forward

Hunter Develice has been taking independent study classes to learn Pro Cut X for video editing and computer classes. He completed an internship at Mercury Marine in the print shop and also works in the copy room at Fond du Lac High School. He works part time at Cartridge World.

“I hope to learn to get comfortable working at MPTC,” he said. “I look forward to learning more about animation and computers.”

Laurie Develice knows that new things can be a little scary for people with autism.

“It’s exciting to know that he will be in a supportive setting that will help him look forward to the future,” she said.

The Fond du Lac program is open to students in all Fond du Lac area school districts and is now accepting applications. Information is available through case managers at area school districts or from Debbie Ellingen, director of special education, or Jana Weigandt at the North Fond du Lac School District at (920) 929-3750.

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