By J.T. Buchheit
Students who have trouble with traditional college classes have another option at their fingertips. The CLEAR program (College Learning Experiences, Activities and Resources), which has classes on both weekdays and weekends, helps students learn things and do activities they wouldn’t do in a normal classroom.
“We offer classes for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said CLEAR manager Kathy Kennedy. “… Most of the students, because of the intellectual disability, are not going to be able to take regular credit classes, but they still have an interest in college. So we’ve modified some classes for them so they can work on academics, they can work on life skills, like personal finance or apartment living or job skills. And some of the classes are just for fun, personal enrichment.”
The program was created in 1977 because of a change in legislation at the time. According to Kennedy, these people were separated from the rest of the population and “warehoused” in state mental facilities. The objective after the change was to treat these people in a more humane manner and offer them more educational opportunities.
“When we started [the program], our mission was very different than it is now,” said Kennedy. “It was for adults who wanted to learn to read and write … Now fast-forward to 1997, when we started the weekday program. That was when more students were being included in high school classes and taking classes with their typical peers. But when they reached the end of high school, their friends went off to college or work, and they didn’t have that opportunity. So what we do now is offer a college learning opportunity.”
Kennedy said that many students’ opinions of the program are extremely positive. One CLEAR student, Nathan Giroux, is in his last year as a student and believes the program has benefited him immensely.
“They helped me learn how to live on my own, to help my family and to be responsible if I want to live on my own,” Giroux said. “Every class has been helping me. Mrs. Kennedy is one of the best teachers and people I’ve ever met in the CLEAR program.”
Although the weekday program is only open to students ages 18 to 24, a similar class is available on the weekends for people of any age over 18.
“On Saturdays, we have a Lifelong Learning Program,” said Kennedy. “The students who attend are ages 18 and older, and we have some students who started attending in 1977, and they haven’t missed a semester since then.”
It’s not just the students who enjoy the program, however. One of the teachers of the CLEAR classes, Ann Hauser, finds it to be a fulfilling experience as well.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hauser said. “The students are super. I don’t have to worry about discipline — they’re all eager to learn. They challenge me, so I’m always learning along with them. It’s the best job I’ve had.”
Hauser has been a teacher before, but felt she wasn’t satisfied with her level of student interaction until entering the CLEAR program.
“I was working in a public school as a school psychologist, and I didn’t feel like I had enough contact with students,” said Hauser. “… So when I got a chance to work at CLEAR, I jumped at it.”
Faculty members aren’t the only people that are able to work for the CLEAR program. Students at the college are encouraged to become involved.
“We appreciate volunteers,” said Kennedy. “We use students from the college. They get service learning hours or volunteer credit, and some just volunteer because they want to.”
Incoming students who may be joining the CLEAR program could have worries, but Giroux assures them that there is no reason to be nervous.
“Everyone here is a friend,” Giroux said. “If you need any help, if you’re shy and uncomfortable, everyone, not only the teachers, but the students, can help a great deal.”
For more information on CLEAR, visit the website or contact Kathy Kennedy at email@example.com.