April is National Community College Month and we’re celebrating all the ways two-year institutions of higher education are awesome, life-changing institutions.
Many students choose community college to achieve their academic and career goals because they are flexible with their schedules — but did you know that same flexibility applies to programming as well? Community colleges across the country are innovative, nimble and are pioneers in higher education.
Take the case of one of our clients, BridgeValley Community and Technical College (BVCTC). The West Virginia college has made its campus more inclusive and accessible than ever before, thanks to its Neurodiversity Pathfinders program.
Neurodiversity is a term that covers a range of neurodevelopmental conditions including Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and more, and can be used to describe a population. Whereas, the term neurodivergent is used when referring to an individual with a neurodevelopmental condition.
Designed according to the social justice and intersectional models of disability, the program provides neurodivergent students, pursuing their choice of degree or certificate program, with educational opportunities for strengths-based self-knowledge in four main areas of focus: self-advocacy, self-regulation, social interaction, and executive functioning. The goal, according to BVCTC Director of College-Wide Initiatives, Dr. James Goodwin, is for students in the program to be able to develop the ability to communicate effectively and successfully access academics, campus services and community and career options.
The program, thus far, has had a 100 percent retention rate since its launch, with all students maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA with a full course load, according to Director of Accessibility and Support Services, Spencer Poling. One student said the program has made college less intimidating for them and provides them with good practice for daily life.
“I enjoy the Neurodiversity Pathfinder Program from all of the experience I’ve had within it,” said one participating student. “It’s been very informative and has told me a lot about different skills, strengths and weaknesses that I have or do not have. I’d be interested in attending again and I hope the program continues in the future.”
According to Goodwin, the college identified there was a need within the local community for this type of program so neurodivergent students could also attain higher education. BVCTC President Dr. Eunice Bellinger put together a task force including Goodwin’s College-Wide Initiatives team, experienced committee members from Student Services and Faculty (Carla Blankenbuehler, Ashley Lewis, James McDougle and Spencer Poling), to come up with a plan of how to best serve neurodivergent students. The team agreed — the social justice model and its philosophy resonated with BVCTC’s mission.
“Ultimately, we aim to help these students be successful in their studies and in their life endeavors,” Goodwin said. “This program doesn’t tell students that they can’t succeed because they are neurodivergent. Instead, we are celebrating the individual’s unique qualities and abilities.”
Goodwin said the program design was modelled after a similar program offered by Bellevue College in Washington.