In 1977, the college took notice of a group of community members who yearned to further their education, including those with learning disabilities. Because of this, the college started the College Learning, Activities and Resources program, or CLEAR. It began with a small number of students who met on Saturdays and took a couple classes with instructors.
Now, 40 years later, CLEAR has expanded to teaching over a hundred students and has classes three days a week. The expansion happened gradually, according to program manager Kathy Kennedy. The need for more classes on the weekdays came from the popularity of CLEAR and from students wanting a real college experience once they got out of high school.
Classes for CLEAR are offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The classes that take place on Tuesday and Thursday are offered to students between the ages of 18 and 24. They were first proposed when teachers at high schools noticed the students with learning disabilities didn’t have the opportunities to go to college like their friends, but still wished to have the college experience.
The college decided to put together weekday classes for the students. These classes allowed students to be on campus at the same time that most other students are, participate in classes, get a student ID, go to the library and all of the other things that come with being a college student. The CLEAR program is helping to expand not only the academic side of the students’ lives, but also the social aspect of them.
“I don’t want them coloring or doing kiddish things, and they don’t want it. They want nothing more than to be treated like anyone else. And I think that’s been a very successful policy. People tend to forget that just because someone has an intellectual disability, are reading at a third grade level, they’re still an adult and they want to be treated as such.”
The classes that CLEAR offers range from a lot of different topics and are usually based on what the students want. For the spring 2017 semester, classes range from practical living to history courses, and even a Star Wars class. The classes are meant for students to have fun while also learning something new and helpful.
“When students sit in our CLEAR class, because it’s modified, they feel comfortable with the material. They’re not afraid to ask questions, their hands go up, they can be leaders in the class,” Kennedy said. “That’s really fulfilling for them and I think it really empowers them with confidence and self-esteem.”
Without the instructors, aides and volunteers, CLEAR wouldn’t exist. The professors teach a wide range of classes that can change each semester depending on what the students want offered this year. Instructor Julie Copenhaver teaches classes that cover history, presidents, geography and social media. She also runs the Sunshine Club, which allows students to make cards and notes that will make other people happy.
“I quickly learned to not be surprised by how far my students can progress,” Copenhaver said. “In technology, I have seen a huge growth in the students’ desire and ability to connect digitally to the world. Just like all college students, CLEAR students text, email and connect with their friends on Facebook. Some need assistance, and that’s OK. We all have our limitations and abilities.”
When student Magda Carlos learned about the CLEAR program, she was shocked to notice that the students enrolled in the program were not involved in any of the clubs or other student activities on campus. When she brought this up, Kennedy said it was hard to find a club the CLEAR students could be a part of since they were only on campus during two of the typical school days.
Carlos didn’t want those students to miss out on the opportunity to participate in any of the many clubs and activities offered at JCCC. Carlos had petitions made and approached the Student Senate to create a new club, the All-In Club. The main focus of the All-In Club is to give all students, regardless of any disabilities they might have, a chance to be in a group and make new friends. The club started on Feb. 2 and meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. in COM 319 to give the CLEAR students the opportunity to be able to join in on the club.
“Everyone that would want to join must be open to interact with anybody in a respectful way, knowing that people with disabilities are or want to be independent like anybody else,” Carlos said.
What makes CLEAR stand out from similar programs is that the classes cost only $5 each for the entire semester. The idea is to make the classes as accessible as possible to people who can truly benefit from this program without having to worry about the cost. Some school districts even offer transportation for the students to be able to get to and from campus on the days that classes are in session.
CLEAR has made a huge impact for everyone involved. Students are able to continue their education and befriend peers through the program, which has always been the main objective for CLEAR. Instructors also benefit from working with students with learning disabilities, as teacher Sharon Depperschmidt has noted.
“Very few people can say they love what they do,” Depperschmidt said. “I am lucky to say I am one of those few. This population of students is so gratifying as they want to engage and learn. They are there by choice and this program is often the rare chance for a student to have the opportunity to socialize with their peers and experience this on a college campus.”