As a reserved high school student in Bloomington, Minn., Adam Schnack dreamed of becoming a video game designer, an actor, or a comedian. He struggled academically, however, and his job prospects were uncertain.
In kindergarten, Schnack was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a receptive/expressive language disorder, and a learning disability in the area of mathematics. His teachers also identified academic weakness in the areas of reading comprehension, reading fluency, and writing fluency.
Now, thanks to a University of Iowa certificate program for young adults with multiple learning and cognitive disabilities, Schnack is experiencing college life—and picking up many of the life skills and the independence that come with it.
The two-year program called REACH, or Realizing Education and Career Hopes, is open to a select group of 18- to 25-year-olds each year. Administered through the Department of Teaching and Learning in the UI College of Education, the program offers noncredit classes taught by REACH instructors in academic enrichment, career development, and student life. The students live in the residence halls and are fully integrated into University and community life.
Launched in the fall of 2008, REACH was one of the first programs of its kind at a major public university, but similar postsecondary education programs are sprouting up across the nation. Having one at Iowa, says REACH director Jo Hendrickson, allows members of the University community to better appreciate the challenges experienced by young adults with disabilities.
“The likelihood that UI students will become parents, employers, coworkers, neighbors, or professionals whose lives are deeply touched by disability is 100 percent,” Hendrickson says. “Every campus activity, internship, service-learning project, and community experience of the REACH student enhances our ability and our drive to work toward mutually beneficial societal outcomes for individuals with disabilities.”
In his second year in REACH, Schnack is one of 34 students from seven states and is on target to complete the program in May.
“At Iowa, Adam has matured and learned to be much more independent, balancing work, school, and social schedules,” says Schnack’s father, Tom, a UI graduate.
Schnack is involved with the Campus Activities Board, a student-run committee that organizes activities and entertainment; attends Iowa football games; and is an active volunteer, giving presentations to families, community business leaders, and educator groups about the REACH program, as well as mentoring newer students in the program.
“I’ve enjoyed showing the new students where everything is and where to get information or help,” says Schnack, who notes that the teachers are the best part of the program. “They are helpful and if you need anything, they’re there for you.”
In addition to taking classes in personal finance and money management, tools for life, college life, social skills, health and wellness, and sex education, Schnack has completed two required internships; the first one was serving as a REACH media liaison and, for the second, he worked at University Book Store.
Schnack’s mother, Jeanne, says she is pleased with REACH: “Because of the extra support from the staff and the small class size, it is a perfect fit for Adam. It’s given him an opportunity to experience college life in a safe environment.”
Armed with a certificate from REACH, Schnack plans to continue his education at Normandale Community College near his hometown while working part-time in retail. He says he’s especially interested in art, computer animation, retail, and theater classes. REACH will continue to be there for him through its two-year postgraduate support program.
For more information on REACH, see www.education.uiowa.edu/reach.
by Lois J. Gray