Prospective students were greeted warmly on Jan.29 as Castleton hosted an informational Open House for the College STEPS program highlighting the program’s accomplishments and allowing for potential applicants to learn more about its work.
Excitement and laughter filled the air as Program Director Patty Moore, students, faculty, families and community members filed in the Hoff Hall Conference Room and waited for the presentation to begin.
Moore, along with program Associate Director Lauren Merritt, opened the session with a PowerPoint giving an overview of the program and its role at Castleton.
The College Steps Program is a two-year model of a post-secondary education that aims to increase the accessibility to college programming for students with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities. Upon graduation of the CSP, students receive a certificate of higher education.
Current Castleton students in the STEPS program and mentors shared their experiences with the audience. When asked what their favorite part of the program was, almost all mentioned the friendships they made.
“It was a really amazing experience,” said mentor Brittany Young. “I don’t just look at these students as people that I am trying to help, I look at them as my friends.”
STEPS student Matt Ellis, expressed his appreciation of the mentor’s work and also added that he enjoyed playing pool in the game room, helping with the WIUV radio station and making new friends.
Another student, Kate Daly, could barely contain her enthusiasm, grinning from ear to ear.
“My favorite part is being with all of the mentors. Two of them I absolutely love! One is Patty, and the bestest ever is Eileen Coyne.”
A few of the students’ parents spoke to their experiences with the program. Pam and Jeff Monder, parents of Dashiell Monder, known as Dash, were proud to say that within the past semester, they have seen a noteworthy increase in Dash’s independence and self-confidence.
“My son writes for the school newspaper and does so many things that I never thought he could do,” Jeff added. “He is taking a sculpture class and brought home a wire sculpture that was absolutely beautiful!”
Bob Holland, STEPS student Joel Owen’s home provider, said he could not thank the program enough because it allowed Joel to realize that college was possible. Owen told Holland that he wanted to learn to drive and due to his success thus far with the program, he now has his learner’s permit and gets to drive home from campus on Wednesdays.
Members of the Castleton Faculty and Administration spoke on the next panel, including David Blow, journalism professor and advisor of the Spartan newspaper, who shared his experiences working with Monder on the newspaper last semester.
Blow shared how Dash was originally assigned to cover the typical “freshman column,” but was not buying it. Monder found his niche contributing reviews of different video games to the paper.
Blow presented Dash with a press plate from his most recent story as a token of appreciation.
Next year the program will enroll about four more students on top of the returning four.