Bellevue College program goes national

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Bellevue College’s Occupational Life Skills program offers training and an associate’s degree for students with learning disabilities. Since December of 2006, BC has been offering the OLS program to students in the Bellevue community. The program helps students develop their pathway, expand their interpersonal skills, volunteer in their community and participate in internships.

Recently two other schools, the Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, and the Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville have explored creating OLS programs of their own to provide opportunities for education to more people within their community. Both schools will be running pilot programs in the fall.

BC’s OLS National Director Marci Muhlestein said “we are giving other colleges an opportunity to replicate this program and have the same successes, which means more adults employed around the nation.”

OLS impacts Bellevue’s community by providing specialized education for adults with cognitive disabilities. “Sharing this with other college campuses allows Bellevue College to create a rippling effect all around the nation by providing a way for other colleges to improve their communities like OLS has in Bellevue,” said Muhelstein.

“Partnering with other colleges provides BC an opportunity to develop new relationships and partnerships in other departments with these colleges,” said Muhlestein. The OLS program was approved at the Northwest Arkansas Community College on Jan. 30 after multiple discussions and surveys with their community of people who help those with cognitive disabilities.
LSC hosted an open forum town hall meeting to introduce the OLS program on Feb. 19. “We want to hear directly from the residents what the needs are, and their ideas and suggestions about how to best serve students with cognitive disabilities and learn differently than others,” said President of LSC-Tomball Dr. Lee Ann Nutt in an interview with The Paper, a Texan online community newspaper.

In Harris and Montgomery counties, it is estimated that there are more than 67,000 unemployed citizens with cognitive disabilities. Some common forms of cognitive disabilities are ADD, ADHD, autism or anxiety disorders, all of which can cause difficulty with organization, taking initiative, attention and social interaction.

Nutt said OLS provides a “wonderful opportunity to reach out to students with cognitive disabilities and their parents, to help them overcome employment barriers and find living wage jobs.”

As reported by The Paper, LSC Executive Director of Expanding Learning Kristin Lue King explained, “we are reaching out to those interested in this program, as well as to companies that are most interested in hiring students with cognitive disabilities.”

The OLS program takes a supportive approach in education for learning impaired students. The program is 60 credit hours over eight semesters of scaffolded instruction. Students create their “career pathway” through a skills and interests assessment. They then take courses such as personal finance, nutrition and critical thinking.

During the last two quarters of the program, students participate in 200 hour internships with a business in their career pathway from the local community.

According to Muhlestein “85 percent of all OLS graduates are employed which is a high percentage when you compare it to 26 percent employment of other individuals with cognitive disabilities around the nation.”