New program sparks opportunity

Project Access student Jessica Giddens gives presentation on the importance of using avatars when using internet accounts. Photo by R. M. Ozuniga.

By R. M. Ozuniga
Pulse staff reporter

Project Access offers students with documented intellectual disabilities access to post-secondary education.

Dr. Rose Zambrano, SDEV 0370 and EDUC 1300 professor, said Palo Alto’s new program is “a way to empower individuals who ordinarily haven’t been given those opportunities.”

SDEV 0370 is a first-year course designed to support the transition of students into a college experience. Students acquire a clearer understanding of campus culture and college resources. They will explore career paths and develop study skills common to all successful college students.

Interested students go through an application and interview process that determines their eligibility for the program. Qualified students have the opportunity to acquire college credits that will earn them a General Office Level 1 Certificate in the Administrative Technology program.

Enrolled students take a total of seven classes over three semesters. The program’s goal is to help students attain job skills necessary for an office setting or a customer service position. Students who acquire this particular certificate are then able to enter the workforce or further their education for more advanced opportunities.

According to Sylvia de Hoyos, Administrative Technology program lead instructor, the students start their first semester with a keyboarding course and the SDEV 0370 course to obtain an understanding of college expectations.

Students then take Job Search Skills, Business English, Administrative Office Procedures I, Records and Information Management I and Business Math.

De Hoyos currently teaches all five courses but is looking to hire an additional instructor.

The program provides accommodations, such as extended test time and assistance with taking notes, for students who need a helping hand.

Project Access’ first group of students—a total of seven—started in Fall 2016 and will fully complete the program in Fall 2017.

This is the first program of its kind in San Antonio and within the Alamo Colleges.

A Palo Alto adjunct faculty member and the then-director of the Down Syndrome Association of South Texas brought the idea of this program to PAC President Dr. Mike Flores in October 2014.

Through conducted research, the two individuals found out about programs—throughout Texas and the nation—that tend to the needs of intellectually disabled individuals via ThinkCollege.

Through further investigation, they realized there were no similar programs within the city of San Antonio.

The idea to start a program like this was then presented to the administration, which lead to research on how to implement such a program at Palo Alto. After a few years, Project Access was born.

“I think it’s a terrific class,” said Project Access student Christopher Rice. “Project Access gave me the opportunity to come to college.”

With small class sizes, the students get to be more equally involved, which makes it easier to get to know one another.

“I love this program… they’re like my family,” said another Project Access student Jessica Giddens.

Project Access student Jake Martinez described his experience as being part of a crew, something he always wanted in his life.

When the second cohort starts next semester, the program’s goal is to bring in a maximum of 12 to 14 students—double its initial enrollment of seven.

Cindy Morgan, Disability Support Services coordinator, said there’s 100 percent persistence with the current group of students within Project Access.

“It’s wonderful for the students because…they’re growing every day and gaining their independence,” Morgan said.

Morgan is currently working on a date for an Open House that invites interested students and their families to learn more about the program.

For more information on Project Access, contact Cindy Morgan at (210) 486-3027.

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