When Washington State's Bellevue Community College hold its commencement a week from Friday, among the graduates will be the first four products of the two-year institution's unusual degree program for students with learning and developmental disabilities.
Leah Brand, Bergen Delisi, Anna Harnois and Trent Marshall will receive associate of occupational and life skills degrees from the Venture Program at Bellevue, which houses the associate degree program.
Mary Allason, director of the Venture Program, said the curriculum serves students with a wide range of disabilities. Some have attention deficit disorder, others autism, she said. Some students suffer from seizures and others had heart issues at birth that led to problems later in life, she said.
In order to address the needs of all these students, class sizes are kept small. Allason said classes have no more than 16 students. “That helps the teacher to be able to cater on an individual level,” she said.
Another way the program caters to the needs of the students is that the course load is taught over a longer period of time, Allason said. The 90 credits required to complete the degree are taken over four years.
Fifty-three students are enrolled in the program, with 47 attending this quarter. Allason said it is not uncommon for students to take a break, especially if a student gets a job.
Harnois, who is 26, has attention deficit disorder. She says that along with her learning disabilities, it can sometimes take her longer to “catch on to things,” but said she's done well from the help of “great teachers.” She said she is "absolutely thrilled" to be among the first to receive the degree.
For her internship, which is a required part of the degree program, she worked in a day care center, where her duties included: reading and playing with the kids, help put supplies and materials away and get them out, etc.
“Pretty much I just helped the teachers in any way they needed to be helped,” she said.
She said the experience gave her an idea of what it would be like to work at a daycare center. Right now, Harnois doesn't have a job after graduation, but will be looking after she graduates. She said she might try to get another day care job.
“I'd like to go into the child care field,” she said.