When Red River College decided to offer a program designed specifically for students with an intellectual or developmental disability it was confident there would be significant community interest.
That confidence was borne out when all 20 available seats for the first stage of the Transforming Futures program, which began this past September at RRC’s Exchange District campus, were quickly filled. The pilot project has proven so popular, in fact, there is already a waiting list should it become an on-going program.
Program Coordinator Paul Brady says the level of interest in the program didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone at the college.
“No, not at all. It’s the first program in Manitoba history that has provided something like this. It was long overdue,” he says.
“I’m from B.C. and they’ve been doing stuff like this forever. When I came here I was surprised there was no other program offered in the province. The people I’ve spoken with here say we really need this type of program.”
Transforming Futures provides classroom training as well as individual support during the first year of studies, which will wrap up in June 2015. The program offers instruction in several areas of study including college readiness, mathematics, computers, interpersonal skills and workplace safety.
Students who successfully complete the first stage of studies will receive an Academic and Career Essential Skills (ACES) certificate. They will then be eligible to enrol in the college’s Culinary Arts or Administrative Assistant programs or seek paid employment.
Amanda, 19, says she decided to enrol in Transforming Futures to help prepare her for the college’s Business Administration program. She gives the pilot project a passing grade.
“It’s a good program for people with intellectual disabilities. They help us to understand the material more than other programs would,” she says.
“It definitely was [the right decision for her]. I honestly don’t think I could keep up with other programs [otherwise].”
Baldeep, 20, says the program has made learning easier for him and hopes his academic success helps him find a job in computer sciences or sport.
In addition to providing enhanced skills and employment opportunities, the program is designed to give students an opportunity to experience college life for themselves.
“It’s a chance to experience the stressors as well as the accomplishments. That’s what college is all about, that’s what life is all about,” Brady says. “This program lets students grow academically as well as personally.”
Although Transforming Futures is considered a pilot project, Brady is confident it will eventually earn full-time status.
The college has already received numerous enquiries from high schools with inclusive programs despite having done little advertising for the program. Interest is likely to increase, Brady says, as the college plans to begin working with local high schools and agencies such as Connect Employment Services and SCE Lifeworks to promote Transforming Futures.
RRC officials have already begun an evaluation process of the project which will be used to determine whether Transforming Futures becomes an ongoing program.
“It’s not just based on ‘Can we put 20 bums in seats.’ It’s about ‘Are we providing a quality service?’ ” Brady says.