Partnership with transitional program 'paints beautiful picture'

Child playing basketball

by Dottie Barnes

Gabby Norris looks forward to coming to Grand Valley twice a week to do her workout program or participate in games at the Fieldhouse. Norris also treasures the relationship she has with Lauren, a Grand Valley student. The two get together to hang out, catch a movie or grab a bite to eat.


Norris is in the Region III Transition program, which is housed in the Grandville Public Schools system. Transition serves moderately mentally impaired students in the community, ages 18-21. Grand Valley has partnered with Transition since 2006 and offers the students a campus experience, instructional support and social interaction.

I like coming to Grand Valley to workout, said Norris, 21. I get to work on my arms and shoulders and legs. My workout partner at Grand Valley helps me.

Bryant Domina, coordinator of the Transition program, said his students get a one-of-a-kind experience by coming to the university on a regular basis.

We started the Transition program seven years ago. At that time I thought it would be a great thing for us to connect with a local university, he said. The vision was to connect our students with peers their same age who were in a college/university setting.

Alex Philo goes up for a basket

I met with a professor of physical education at Grand Valley through a friend of mine, and various connections to university programs grew from there. Grand Valley students help my students do better academically and socially. Plus, the increased self-confidence of my students is something that just cant be measured.

The partnership involves several disciplines at Grand Valley. Students majoring in psychology, movement science, physical therapy, education and more can take a class that involves working with Transition students, and developing assessment tools.

Psychology students also travel to the programs building in Grandville to help teach classes.

Grand Valley students are able to merge book learning with real life experience, said Bryan Bolea, affiliate professor of psychology. The experience lets them see teachers and other professionals at work from a collegial rather than student perspective. Most importantly, the experience helps them think about constructs such as normal and disabled and allows them to wrestle with complex issues such as diagnosis, treatment and public policy.

Colleen Lewis, associate professor of movement science, said her students form special bonds with Transition students.

My students, who can be physical education, dance, exercise science, or therapeutic recreation majors, meet the Transition students and get to know them before working to create personal fitness workouts, said Lewis. They take ownership and see the students as young adults like themselves, not like people who have a disability.

Sydney Kilmartin, a senior and education major from Middleville, has worked with Transition students for three years.

Ive helped with team building activities, cooperation exercises, developing motor skills, and sports things they're not used to doing, said Kilmartin. Ive had to learn how to modify activities to support various disabilities. The experience has changed my perspective on everything.

Cody James (C.J.) Scholl, a senior and physical education major from Rockford, said working with Transition students has helped him become more comfortable in the classroom.

Ive learned how to make the gym a place where everyone can learn and excel, he said. For these students, being active gives them confidence and teaches them skills they can use for the rest of their lives. Impaired students are often sedentary and coming to the Fieldhouse keeps them fit and active.

The Grand Valley students agreed there was a component they weren't completely prepared for with this partnership.

You really get attached to the students & it gets me, just talking about it right now. Its emotional, said Scholl.

Kilmartin said her mom noticed the smile on her face every time she talked about her experience.

If Im having a bad day, that changes when Im with the students. Their positive attitudes make me feel better, she said. They always give 100 percent. We've formed great friendships. I am the same age as these students and I didn't want them to think I was trying to be superior. I just wanted to be a mentor and a friend, and that happened.

Transition students are also a part of Grand Valleys Best Buddies program, which matches college students with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities to do things together socially.

Norris said she enjoys spending time with her Best Buddy Lauren. We hang out. We went to a Halloween party, and we go to the mall, talk on the phone and dance to my variety of music. Were friends on Facebook, she said.

Alex Philo, 18, said he likes coming to Grand Valley because its fun and there is a lot to do.

I want to get more in shape, he said. Its fun to play basketball, and I like using the bikes. My Best Buddy is Chelsea. We hang out, like go to the movies. We saw the new Batman.

Keith Karwat, 19, said he enjoys working out and participating in group activities.

I like working on my abs, he said. C.J. is fun and funny. My favorite sport is basketball. I like going to the mall with Sarah. We walk around and look at stuff. I usually don't get to go to the mall.

Peter DeHaan, a psychology major from Rockford, said he was just looking for a couple credits to graduate when he happened to take a class working with Transition students.

It was a random choice; it fit with my schedule, admitted DeHaan. I didn't think I was going to have any fun. It was a selfish concern of mine. I didn't know what to expect, but now I love it. These students have helped me rekindle my childhood spirit. You don't have to do anything special for them to think you're cool. Its not about me here, its about teaching.

Domina said when his students are at Grand Valley they gain learning opportunities and social experiences with peers, something they might not have otherwise.

Its hard to put into words, he said. It paints a beautiful picture.

Page last modified October 12, 2015