KU TPE students transition to online courses gracefully

Published: Jun. 27, 2020 at 5:04 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - KU Transition to Postsecondary Education helps students with intellectual disabilities adapt to new experiences.

Dana Lattin says she had faith that TPE students would adapt to the new online experience presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says TPE is a program that develops problem-solving skills, creativity and resiliency. The program was established with a 5-year grant to the KU Life Span Institute in 2015 and offers students with intellectual disabilities a combination of academic, career development and student life experiences that build community participation and prepare them for employment.

“The assumption is that students with intellectual disability would suffer or struggle as everything moved online,” said Lattin, research project director and the administrator for TPE. “And like any college student, they struggled with some things. On others, they soared.”

TPE says students include Carleigh La Voy, a first-year student that health with the disappointment of canceled choir performances and the closure of her beloved Spencer Museum of Art. She says by the end of the spring semester, she had adapted to managing coursework on Blackboard, learning and socializing over Zoom and conversation apps such as GroupMe.

La Voy says she offered a final class presentation about her future goals to instructors and several family members over Zoom.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be because it wasn’t face to face, so not as intimidating,” she says.

TPE says students like La Voy enroll in undergraduate KU courses, participate in student clubs and activities, can live in KU student housing and gain career experience through internships. The students graduate in 2 years with a Transition to Postsecondary Education Certificate from the KU School of Education. KU says it is one of 48 federally grant-funded TPSIDs that have been introduced at universities across the country in the past 10 years.

Lattin says engagement has been key to keeping students involved and accountable. Once campus closed a request went out over GroupMe, which is used by students and staff, to post a photo of their new home study space. She says another day everyone had to post a meme of how they were feeling and continued to meet for study sessions with peer academic coaches and met through Zoom.

Madison Peavey, a TPE graduate from Leawood, says she had been interning in KU Language Acquisition Preschool classrooms. She says when the school closed she found a way to convert what she learned in class and at the preschool to select books for children, read them aloud and record the sessions on Zoom for children.

“I loved that Madison wanted to help when we started doing weekly recordings for the LAP children,” says Ana Paula Mumy, KU clinical assistant professor and director of Language Acquisition Preschool. “She pulled together what she saw modeled in LAP and what she had learned in her coursework about how to engage young children in shared reading experiences. It was encouraging to see her asking some dialogic reading questions throughout the virtual reading as though the children were right there with her.”

Jacob Hammer is also a TPE graduate who moved online with his internship.

Hammer says while he had been working on editing video projects at the School of Business with Michael Brock early in the semester, the pandemic forced them to work remotely with video editing and effects software to produce content for the school’s graduation video and other projects.

Hammer says he did not picture himself going to college when he was a student at Free State High School but knew he would need more skills if he were to pursue his goal to work in television, filmmaking or video.

“I didn’t think I could be a full-time student at a university,” he said. “If someone has a disability and I knew them and they were worried about being a full-time student, I would tell them about TPE. It’s something you can put on your resume and help you get a full-time job because you have college experience.”

Kerry Shogen, director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities at the Life Span Institute and the primary investigation leading the grant that funds TPE, says she sees admitting students with intellectual disabilities as a benefit to all students and instructors.

“If you know how to engage students who have significant support needs, it helps you improve the way you support all of your students on campus,” said Shogren, who is a professor in the KU Department of Special Education. “We live in a diverse society, and we all know the power of interacting with people who have different experiences. A big part of the program is impacting all students, faculty and staff in the KU community.”

Lattin says as the grant funding TPE nears its end she is hopeful that private foundation funding or other grants can keep the program going. Eleven students have been admitted for the fall 2020 semester, the largest group of TPE students to date.

La Voy says she can’t wait to be back on campus, she misses her choir class, Jayhawk Boulevard and socializing with friends in the Underground.

“I have grown closer with my family,” she said, “but some days I’m ready to get back. I can’t wait. I love campus. The people, the buildings. I love it.”

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