PAC helps DSS students gain employment

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Project Access Instructor Cindy Morgan speaks to the board of trustees Tuesday at Killen about expanding the Project Access program at Palo Alto College and other Alamo Colleges. The program helps students with intellectual disabilities develop skills, earn a general office Level 1 certificate and have postsecondary educational access. Photo by Brianna Rodrigue

Students with disabilities take pride in being college students.

By Zachary-Taylor Wright

The disability support services center at Palo Alto College described the success of the Project Access program and plans to expand it at Palo Alto and to other Alamo Colleges at the regular board meeting Tuesday at Killen Center.

According to the presentation, Project Access is designed to teach students with intellectual disabilities at Palo Alto College hirable skills, culminating in the acquisition of a general office Level I certificate.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie said the program is unusual because it offers students with disabilities hirable skills.

Leslie said most higher education programs for students with disabilities focus solely on social skills and are not degree-earning, but Project Access offers job-creating courses.

According to the presentation, Project Access was launched in August with seven students enrolled in six credit hours and is experiencing a 100 percent student persistence rate by this semester.

Students who participate in Project Access take a total of 16 credit hours over three semesters with the opportunity to stack certificates after completion of the program.

Project Access Coordinator Cindy Morgan said the program will expand to 12 or 13 students after the first cohort of seven students completes the program in fall. Activities will be offered in the summer for students finishing the program.

Morgan said she would like to see other colleges in the district incorporate this program.

Morgan said the second cohort of students will begin the program in fall and the third will begin in the spring 2018 semester.

District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery said he has a connection to these kinds of programs.

Kingsbery said his mother worked with severely disabled students during her time as a teacher and congratulated Morgan and Sylvia de Hoyos, disabled student services instructor at Palo Alto College, on their efforts.

District 1 trustee Joe Alderete asked how involved parents are with the students in the program.

De Hoyos said the parents are highly engaged, saying she has developed a bond with the students, but parents are working on classwork with the students at home.

De Hoyos said the students work with notetakers, allowing students to take work home and review it with their parents.

However, de Hoyos reminded the board the courses offered in Project Access are college courses, saying the material covered in the courses is not changed to accommodate the students with intellectual abilities.

Only the format is changed.

De Hoyos said the students in the program are college students and they want to be identified as such.

District 5 trustee Roberto Zarate said he is glad to see the gap between high school and post-secondary education for students with disabilities.

Zarate questioned where the funds for the program are coming from.

Palo Alto President Mike Flores said the program is funded by Palo Alto College’s institutional funds.

Morgan said she would like to hold an open house for the program in May to scout interested students for the next cohort.


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