When her son finished high school but didn’t earn his diploma, Gloria Duke worried he wouldn’t get to attend college.
Her son, Dalton Duke, 19, has autism and wasn’t able to meet all of the required class and testing requirements. The family decided he would get his certificate of completion instead. Under Indiana law, he can continue taking classes at Franklin Community High School until he is 22.
But Gloria Duke doesn’t want him to get stuck in the comfort of high school, where he knows the daily routines, the locations of classes and all the teachers.
This winter he’ll be part of a new program, where students with special needs can take classes at Franklin College, work jobs, attend campus events and join clubs.
“I think it will broaden his horizons so he’s not just stuck on one thing,” Gloria Duke said. “It will teach him that life can’t be controlled, and it makes me feel like he’ll be more secure later in life.”
A new partnership between Franklin College and Special Services Johnson County will allow students with special needs who have attended four years of high school to move on to college with the rest of the students their age.
Students in the program will spend one to two years at the college, taking one college course a semester, and work in the community.
Franklin College emphasizes the importance of universal respect for its students, and having students with special needs in classes with college students, learning right beside them, will help teach that everyone deserves to be treated the same and have the same opportunities, according to Franklin College vice president for academic affairs David Brailow. And students coming from the high schools will have the chance to branch out and learn about something they might never have had the chance to, he said.
What: A partnership between Franklin College and Special Services Johnson County to allow high school students with special needs who have graduated to attend classes and activities at the college. Indiana law allows students with special needs to stay in high school until they are 22.
Who: Ten to 12 students each semester can participate from all school districts in Johnson County. Students must apply to be in the program.
When: The first group of students will start attending classes in January.
Requirements: Students can audit or sit in on one class each semester. They will be able to participate in activities at the campus. They must each have a job in the community.
Cost: The program is being paid for with a grant and is free to families.
For many parents of children with special needs, it’s hard to hear that their child might never get a diploma or go to college, Franklin schools special education director Mindy Staton said.
Until her son’s senior year, Gloria Duke thought that Dalton Duke would be able to get his diploma. She was proud of him, and he was happy to be able to attend the graduation ceremony with his peers. But Gloria Duke also was disappointed her son wouldn’t be able to go further with his education.
The new college program will give Dalton Duke the chance to explore other opportunities, his mother said. He loved working as the weatherman for the high school newscast. She hopes a class in broadcasting could spark an interest in taking more college courses after he finishes this program, she said.
“I’m excited what it can bring to him,” she said. “Maybe it can steer him towards a career.”
Starting in January, Dalton Duke will attend a class at Franklin College, work his paid job at Grand Rental Station in Franklin and another program-sponsored position, and choose what college activities and groups he wants to join.
Ten to 12 students in special education classes throughout the county will get the chance to take certain core courses at Franklin College each semester. Some students will work at the college, and others will work at local businesses such as Don and Dona’s Restaurant or Girls Inc.
The students will not receive credit for the classes and will attend as auditors or guests, Brailow said.
Families won’t have to pay for the courses, which are being paid for with a Center Grove Education Foundation grant. Only students from Franklin and Center Grove high schools will be able to participate this semester. Students from all Johnson County school districts will be able to apply for the program next year.
Schools plan to tell parents starting in middle school about the program. Middle school is when many parents first hear that their child might not graduate with a high school diploma and often feel their student might not ever get to go to college or get the job they had hoped they would have, Staton said. Knowing early about the college program will give them a goal to have their student work toward, she said.
The goal is to make students in the program employable, Special Services Johnson County transition coordinator Megan Horsley said. Having a job is a requirement, and by the end of their time at the college they should have the ability to keep a position and get to work on their own. Not all students will be able to participate. Only those who are ready to move on, based on teacher and parent opinions, will be able to participate, she said.
In high school, students’ schedules are carefully organized by staff members. Then when they turn 22, they leave high school and without any transition have to start working and taking care of themselves, Staton said. The students are ready to move beyond high school but still need some preparation for living independently, she said.
“They’re so used to living bell to bell,” Staton said. “That’s not life. We’re trying to help these students become successful adults. There’s a big gap now because their whole world is planned, then suddenly they’re on their own.”
In the college program, they’ll be more independent while still having guidance from program coordinators and teachers, Horsley said. A support staff member, chosen each semester from each school or from Special Services Johnson County staff, will be on campus to meet with the students as often as they need. And program coordinators are trying now to set up a way for students studying education at the college to mentor students in the program. They could show them around campus, help them with coursework and introduce them to new activities, Staton said.
Students will be in charge of getting themselves to class and work and filling their time between classes and work.
The responsibility will help students like Dalton Duke prepare for when they leave school and have to manage their own time and schedules. Gloria Duke hopes the program will help her son become more independent.
Most students in the program will attend one class each semester that they choose from a list of core courses open to them, such as physical education or biology. The college is working to finalize the list and get permission from the professors to participate, Brailow said.
If students want to attend another class, it can be added with the instructor’s agreement. Professional development sessions, including training and disability awareness, will be available from Special Services Johnson County staff so professors can be prepared, Horsley said.