By Miriam Bernard

It’s that “graduation” time of year, and so many NODCC Community Members are moving on to exciting new opportunities and horizons! Allow this collection of secondary education experiences from our NODCC family to inspire you to keep pushing forward and chasing goals. As you can see below, there’s a perfect “next step” for every person!

Robin and Will Daisley, Parents of Kelsie Daisley, 25

Our daughter Kelsie is 25 and has C-ACC and hypotonia. She now attends an adult Sunday School class, works part time, attends college classes, keeps up with friends, gaming platforms and phone calls. We enrolled Kelsie in an online high school that allows students to work at their own pace and she graduated in 2019. From there, Kelsie went on to attend a program with the local South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation center where she received job training, interview coaching, and other mentoring. Kelsie began taking courses in Early Childhood Education at Trident Technical College with a plan to earn a certificate in Special Education. She learned through this experience that she really loves American Sign Language and easily completed those courses. So those offer an opportunity if Kelsie decides she wants to look into providing interpretation services at a local hospital, school, or therapy center. Whether Kelsie completes the certificate program or not, and no matter what she chooses to do, through this experience she will have the knowledge that she set a goal and met it, and maybe that satisfaction can propel her to her next achievement.

Claire Costa

I have C-ACC and I went to a university and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. I have been a preschool teacher for almost 9 years.

Christine Williams, Mother of Valerie Williams, ACC

For Valerie,  we began our search for her “next step” after high school very early, six months to a year prior to her “graduation” date. Valerie’s next step would be an adult day program, which we still call school. We visited many programs and feel so fortunate to have found a program that Valerie loves. Every day the teachers look to Valerie’s strengths without limiting her, they look to see why she does the things she does and try to expand her current knowledge base. We have seen such a change in her social and communication abilities. School has a different theme each day – karaoke, gardening, exercise, outdoor activities, etc. The last family event that she attended had dancing, Val had so much fun dancing (hasn’t really enjoyed dancing in the past) – just one of the things we attribute to her school and variety of activities. Valerie loves to go to school each day – she loves to see her teachers and the other students that go to school with her – has been great fun to watch her grow.

Allyson Wisinski

I have C-ACC and from experience of earning a post secondary education degree, I would highly recommend Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI. They have a great Disability Services department that can walk alongside students who need support in their classes in a variety of areas and for a variety of reasons. I utilized this support throughout all 4 years I was a student. Calvin also has a Ready For Life (RFL)/Ready For Life Academy program offered for college aged students with intellectual disabilities. Students in the program take life skill classes while also taking college level classes. Mentors come in to help out and students also have a mentor they can go to for guidance. In the RFL program, each student has a Community Living Support (CLS) person that they check in with often. Students can participate in all college events and activities on and off campus and live in a dorm to experience college life. I was a mentor for students in the program. I believe there are other RFL programs on other college campuses as well if Calvin isn’t a great fit for the student. Link to Calvin’s Disability Services department for individuals who may be interested in looking into this:

Nathan Barge (Adult with C-ACC)

I began my college career at a community college, however, did not get very far with academics. I was lucky enough to find a 4-year college to transfer to (Edgewood College in Madison, WI), which had an amazing program for students with various intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program is called “Cutting Edge.” Through it, I have learned many skills for the independent living, social, and vocational as well as providing me more confidence in what I want to pursue for a career. In May 2023, I will be graduating with a BA in Communications with a concentration in Digital Marketing. If not for Cutting Edge, I would not have been able to have all the success that has led me to where I am today. I do not have a job locked down yet, but am confident that I am on the right path as I transition into the real world. I am keeping multiple options as I continue the job hunt. Something else that I never thought would be a possibility was just brought into discussion just a couple weeks ago- the potential of grad school. Since I took a while to get through undergrad, I never even considered this option, however, since I have been able to succeed at such a high level thanks to the Cutting Edge program, I have had a few advisors approach me asking that I consider taking next steps as I continue to pursue my dream of working in the sports media career field. If I end up attending grad school, I would also have a grad position with my school’s athletics department assisting with the Sports Information Department. I look forward to what the future holds, but will always be grateful to Cutting Edge for all that they have done to support me along the way.

Jackie Harbison

I had the great privilege to experience community college and state university. The program I chose at the community college was a very smooth transition into the state school. The courses I took in community college were almost as difficult as my courses beyond that. I think it was beneficial as it prepared me for the next few years. I knew I wasn’t the best writer, but I worked very hard. Lucky for me, I had an amazing history professor who helped me tremendously. To this day, his voice is in my head while writing, reminding me to not use passive voice. I made many friends in both schools, several of whom I am still in contact with. We were all in the same program, so we had this tremendous bond. Becoming a teacher was something I dreamed of since childhood. I was able to accomplish the goal of receiving Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees in Childhood Education within six years.

Sarah Mellnik

Out of high school I started working and was employed for 6 years with companies who help those with disabilities gain employment. I took a 4 year break, and then decided to try college (something I had been told my entire life I wouldn’t be able to accomplish). It took me 8 years but I was able to achieve 2 associate degrees with 4.0 GPAs. I then reached back out to Voc Rehab for assistance in finding employment and unfortunately that hasn’t worked out so far. My advice is to learn to advocate for yourself, and make sure you understand and agree with the plan that is being made for you. There are always ways of accomplishing your goals-no matter what they are-just sometimes you have to work a little harder and be your own voice and make it loud and constant enough until you are heard and seen.