College has academy for students with disabilities

May 17, 2012 10:17:58 AM PDT
Seven years ago, Elmhurst College created a unique "undergraduate" program for students with cognitive and learning disabilities.

It's one of the few colleges to offer this four-year program.

ELSA - Elmhurst Learning and Success Academy - is about giving young adults with disabilities academics, social and career opportunities so they can work productively, like all their peers.

ELSA is located on the beautiful western suburban campus of Elmhurst College.

Twenty-six ELSA students were part of the 2011-2012 school year.

" We try to provide a college-like experience for young adults with disabilities, that they can come and be a part of campus and work on their independent living, their career as well as continue to build their literacy skills," said ELSA director Lu Doty. "They have a specific curriculum. We have course in what we call independent living courses in career development, courses in what we call social issues/self determination and courses in literacy.

Instead of a diploma, ELSA students get a certificate, but they go through graduation like other students.

Jennifer Gans, 25, graduated in 2009. Her major was undecided.

"I couldn't decide at that time but I know what I'm doing now," she said. "I'm working with animals.

"I work two part-time jobs. One at Petsmart and I also work at Steinmart."

Jarvis Hart, 25, graduated in 2011 majoring in English and writing.

"The program is fun for me because I'm doing jobs for internships, for computer class and helping kids out," Hart said. "I work in the Village of Bellwood maintenance and pick up garbage, clean up parks and volunteer for Opportunity Knocks for Special Kids. "I work full time."

Job training and career exploration is an significant part of ELSA.

Dr. Robb Frank is the coordinator.

" We have them starting out in their freshman year ," he said. "We want them to do some on-campus job shadowing so they follow somebody on campus that they'd like to work in one of the offices or businesses or whatever. Once they do that, they'll do (an) information interview (and) get some more information about that certain job."

Sometimes ELSA students want to continue with their education.

"We actually have one student on campus now who graduated from ELSA last year, applied and was admitted to Elmhurst College and so now he's working on his degree and wants to work in advocacy," Frank said.

To learn more about ELSA, visit www.elmhurst.edu/elsa


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