Rock Valley College program offers employment education for students with intellectual disabilities

ROCKFORD, Ill. - Local organizations and area school districts team up to provide a unique program for young adults with intellectual disabilities.

Through the Rock Valley Academic Institute for Successful Employment (RAISE), students are able to attend college and learn the necessary skills to land a job.

"I think it's like a cool experience," said student Aaron Martin. "Like, you get a college feel and you get to meet new people."

"The classes range from banking and budgeting, to self-advocacy, to those work readiness skills that are so important," said RAISE Program Coordinator, Mary Anne Ax.

Learning to be more independent is a goal for many of the students in the program.

"I want to be an illustrator and live on my own," said student Andrey Wade. "I hope to learn how to be successful and how to do budgeting and how to do all that stuff."

Student Rylee Berkman said, "I hope I can become more confident in getting a job some day."

"I hope to get a better understanding of what it's like to live on my own, out of this class," said student Celia Strong. "That is my ultimate goal, so I'm not living with my folks for the rest of my life."

Teacher Jim Mascal says he wants his students to leave the class knowing what is good about themselves.

"I hope they can take that information and use it when it comes to pursuing a job, or getting the things they want in the community, or just helping them live more, outside themselves, and have a fuller experience," Mascal said. "That's what I hope they get."

Most disabled students participate in RAISE at no cost, as the RVC program is part of their school district's individualized education plan.

"Once they crunch the numbers, even though the tuition is $300 per class, per student, they find that it's more cost effective or it's a break even situation," said Ax. "And the students get to come back to Rock Valley and become empowered."

RAISE students are excited about the social aspects of college life.

"I love this college," Kayla Sterkeson said. "I love the friends...I've made. I love every teacher that I've had."

If you would like to learn more, Rock Valley is hosting an open house for the next RAISE program on Tuesday, November 13th, 2018, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Student Center Atrium.

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