College takes STEPS to diversify student population

Castleton State College is now offering a program to help young adults with intellectual disabilities and autism disorders integrate into the college atmosphere.

The CSC STEPS program Associate Director Lauren Merritt said the group formed a contract with Community Access Program to find students who have an interest in pursuing secondary education and are a good match for CSC.

“They want a genuine experience much like their peers,” said Merritt.

Last year, Johnson State College became the first in the state to adopt the program, officials said.

“Ideally we would like to have a STEPS program for each college in Vermont,” said Meritt.

There are four key components to the program: academics, independent living skills, vocational experience and socialization.

The students in the program believe it has been a very beneficial experience to be a part of.

“It has helped me get experience of what it’s like to be in college and meeting new friends has been a good experience for me,” said Dash Monder, one of four students in the inaugural program.

As part of the experience, each student in the program is assigned to different mentors according to areas of interests.

“I chose to do it because I’m going to be a high school teacher and working with different abilities is good practice,” said Megan Franzoni.

Students are not the only ones the program will benefit on campus. Professors will also get the chance to learn to teach students with different abilities, program officials said.

“Having students with disabilities on campus teaches professors to how to teach ALL students,” said Director of Castleton STEPS program, Patricia Moore.

Although the program started with four students, by next year Moore said she hopes to have  eight. 

The program has helped students make a better future for themselves because of the resources they are given.

“They have access to adult opportunities. Research shows they have more success getting jobs that are meaningful and gainful (because of the college experience),” said Meritt.

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