By Mike Greife, September 21, 2015
WARRENSBURG, MO – Representatives of the U. S. Department of Education visited the
University of Central Missouri campus Tuesday, Sept. 15, to learn about UCM’s THRIVE
program for students with developmental disabilities.
Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Melody Musgrove, director of special education programs, visited the campus as part of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “Ready for Success” week-long, back-to-school tour of eight midwestern and eastern states. Also attending with Yudin and Musgrove was Matthew Presser, a teaching ambassador fellow and literacy instructional coach at King/Robinson Magnet School in New Haven, Conn.
While on campus, the group was hosted by UCM President Charles Ambrose; Michael Wright, dean of the UCM College of Education; Joyce Downing, assistant dean; the staff of the UCM THRIVE program and current THRIVE students and THRIVE alumni. Also present were representatives of the UCM Alumni Foundation, the Office of Student Financial Assistance and College of Education faculty, as well as representatives of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority Board.
Downing presented the history and mission of THRIVE, an acronym for Transformation, Health, Responsibility, Independence, Vocation and Education, from its founding in the fall of 2010 with grant funding from Expanding College for Exceptional Learners, a Kansas City area group of parents and concerned citizens seeking a partner for the residential campus program designed to provide young people ages 18-25 with developmental disabilities with the opportunity to grow through independent living and academic opportunities.
THRIVE accepts a cohort of 12-15 applicants each fall semester for the two-year program. The students live in a university residence hall with UCM student mentors and are enrolled in courses taught by THRIVE staff, as well as regular college curriculum. During their second year, students participate in internships for 20hours per week, both on- and off-campus. They also receive individualized counseling and person-centered planning from THRIVE staff while living as part of the general campus community.
Downing explained that THRIVE students pay academic tuition and residential and food service fees, plus a THRIVE fee to support program expenses. Some THRIVE students and their families recently have become eligible for needs-based federal Pell grants, supplemental grants, work study FAFSA grants and funding through the MOST program.
“I would love to hear about the experiences of the THRIVE students,” Yudin said. Mary Warm, a THRIVE graduate, explained that she was able to live independently and is pursuing her education at a community college near her home as a result of the efforts of the THRIVE teachers, mentors and staff. Jesse Parham, also a 2014 alumnus, currently is enrolled as student at UCM, where he has continued writing part-time for the school newspaper. Each of the current students and THRIVE alumni present explained they were able to exceed their own expectations of what they could achieve as a result of the THRIVE experience.
“The THRIVE curriculum is designed to teach these students how to prepare for the future,” said Mike Brunkhorst, an instructor in the THRIVE core curriculum. “Things like basic communication and how to prepare for and complete a job interview are part of that.”
He added that the THRIVE curriculum sets expectations based upon an understanding of each student’s past experiences.
“They discover that they can do more than they thought they could,” he said.
Downing explained that while each student’s experience and ability is considered individually, there are no individual education plans traditionally found in K-12 special education programs. Students are expected to accept responsibilities of a traditional college student, with support from THRIVE mentors and staff.
“We have students who have never had homework, so we have a supervised study hall to enhance study skills and teach them to accept that responsibility,” Downing said. “We also work on things like getting up on time and following a schedule.” She added that the on- and off-campus internship opportunities provide students with a combination of job skills and responsibility that allow them to better function independently.
“We are learning that many of our existing programs are woefully inadequate for the developmentally disable student,” Musgrove said. Noting that THRIVE offers students not only opportunities for academic success, but also a pathway to gainful employment, she praised the full spectrum of opportunities available to THRIVE students.
“Too often, special education has focused on what students can’t do rather than helping them overcome obstacles from a strength-based position,” Musgrove added. “This program focuses on what the individual
student is good at, and helps him or her make the most of it. It also increases the awareness of the general public of the contributions these students can make to society.”
“Special education students historically do better with higher expectations,” Yudin said, also complimenting the THRIVE program’s success at strengthening the connection between education and employment transition.
Learn more about UCM’s THRIVE program at ucmo.edu/thrive.