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Students with disabilities learning life and job skills with Academy NexT

This week, students with disabilities are getting the chance to learn about the skills they need to get a job and live an independent life through an Idaho State University program.

Academy NexT (New and exciting Transitions), is now in its fourth year. Started by assistant professor Jenn Gallup, the program brings students with disabilities on to campus in order to help improve their experience post-high school.

“I wanted to help them learn how to be more independent, build their communication skills and develop some career and college readiness,” Gallup explained.

The five-day program is offered to students between the ages of 14-21 and aims to help them move forward in life.

Gallup said she believes programs like this are “paramount” to making that next step.

“These programs really help students build confidence, develop self-efficacy and feel like they are part of a community and can be part of a community,” she said.

The program, which serves students of all ability levels, allows the students to make their own decisions to help them see what they are capable of.

Melody Weaver, another assistant professor at ISU, was involved in getting the students into the College of Nursing’s sim lab. It’s something that means a lot to her, since her son, Sawyer, is on the autism spectrum.

“Any chance I can have to give back is really meaningful to me and hopefully I touch a few lives,” Weaver said.

Like Gallup, Weaver said this program is very important because it highlights the potential that these students have.

“Quite often, I’ve found in my experience that people tend to hold them back,” she said. “You just need to open the door. And these kids are unique and smart and inquisitive and have so much potential.”

On Tuesday, the students had a chance to learn at four different medical stages, doing everything from reviving a patient to testing reflexes.

Izaiah, one of the students, said his favorite part of the day was learning.

He said he had prior knowledge of a lot of things they went through, but it was good to be brought back up to speed.

“I sort of knew it, but it’s been about four or five years since I did that in health class. So, I regained it.”

Another student, Anya, said she enjoyed being pushed past her comfort zone to try new things.

“My favorite thing was getting to do some of the cool things, even though they kind of made me uncomfortable and a little grossed out,” she said with a smile.

48 students have gone through the program over the past several years, 25 percent of which are currently employed in some capacity.

Since the program serves those with the most significant disabilities and those with high functioning autism, like the ones in the program Tuesday, the game plan has to be fluid to differences in the students’ abilities.

“It is critical that students should attend one of these programs,” Gallup said. “I live to do this camp. I come to work every day knowing that in the summer I get the opportunity to work with these young adults.”

“We often hear ‘I didn’t know that kids with disabilities could do something like that. I didn’t know that students with disabilities were capable of working in a hospital,'” Gallup said.

“It’s really about opening doors for these kids and saying ‘come on through,'” Weaver said. “Treat these kids like they’re regular people.”

The program is serving 24 students this year with the hope of growth moving forward.

Students must be part of Vocational Rehabilitation services to participate since that is the group’s funding agency.

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