– Written by Jesse Saperstein, Habilitation Liaison
It is finally a new school year and a new beginning. The last two weeks of August served as Orientation for The College Experience, and we welcomed new freshmen students. On August 15th, the newly minted seniors banded together with staff to help the new freshmen move into their respective rooms. We made quick work of the labor and in some cases all the belongings were brought up to the room in minutes. The freshmen were greeted with cookies, a welcome note from the seniors, and a fridge stocked with food purchased by the program. The seasoned seniors understand their role in the program is invaluable because they offer something the staff cannot. They have been there and done that. While it will be impossible for everything to be perfect, the seniors may help shave off the learning curve by acting as mentors. Two seniors, Miranda and Rikhi gave respective speeches about how they are present to help seniors through their challenges as students who have been there and done that.
The first week is best described as a fun Boot Camp – we schedule plenty of learning activities and a few fun activities. As is the case with the nature of our innovative program, the students are kept incredibly busy in an effort to give them the strongest start possible. The students have attended sessions about safety in the community, healthy relationships, and icebreakers that have eased some of the nervousness, which is inevitable with new experiences.
It gives us great pleasure to report that all the freshmen students have passed their walking trials on the first attempt. Walking trials are how we know that students can get to and from their dorms to campus independently – after lots of practice, we give them an opportunity to master the walk on their own while being observed by staff. Staff has worked closely with all the students to ensure they become familiar with the neighborhood and campus before they are allowed some alone time in the community.
For the rest of the semester, there will be a strong emphasis on bus training and community navigation. The first trip that all students mastered during their Orientation was the bus routes to Crossgates Mall. The students are doing their best to learn proper bus etiquette and how to handle situations that may come up such as getting on the wrong bus. Their first week was also capped with trips to the New York State Museum, Lake George, and a barbeque on Sunday.
For most of our students, this is their first taste of independence. Even with plenty of support from the staff, the students are going to face challenges with managing their time and keeping on top of household responsibilities. The College Experience challenges our students with academic standards, but we are not famous for the large amounts of homework that is typical of other college programs. The lack of traditional homework is because we would prefer our students to spend their free time building relationships and opening themselves up to events in Albany to complete their requirements for Community Involvement. As our Admissions Coordinator, Colleen Dergosits said in class the other day, “We want you to have your best memories outside of the classroom.”
In a program of around thirty students, it is painfully unrealistic to expect that everybody will mesh as best friends or get along all of the time. But the most important expectation is a sense of mutual respect for each other. Students have been supportive to each other and conflicts are short-lived. With that in mind, it sounds like the students are off to a very good start and will have momentum for the 2016-2017 school year. As someone who lives with Asperger’s syndrome, this program would have changed my life for the better if it had existed sixteen years ago when I entered college in 2000.