As Shakespeare once said, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Whether or not a student with Down syndrome can handle the ups and downs that come with attending a large university is a challenging question. Believe it or not, it can be done and is being done at Utah Valley University.
UVU has become an inclusive setting for students with Down syndrome. Through faculty, student statements and parent interviews, I will focus on the benefits and challenges of attending a university for Down syndrome students as well as their peers. I wanted to know how some of my professors felt about having students with special needs in their classes, so I took my pen and pad and went to visit some of them.
As a person with Down syndrome attending UVU, I want to do what I can to raise the awareness of the question here in our community. Having been born with Down syndrome does not mean the person is incapable of learning. We are lifelong learners, just like everyone else. What better time to share these ideas and the impact of inclusion than now?
Recently, I took my first five-hour English class, and, as an assignment, I got to share what I have learned about the feelings and accomplishments of my friends with Down syndrome who are attending UVU. We also participate at the Orem Institute of Religion. When I first started here, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life. I got a better idea through one of the Theater professors that took me under his wing. That professor was G. Randall King. Mr. King is the one that gave me the most encouragement and helped me get started at UVSC before it became a university. He helps all students focus on their strengths. He helped me explore the powerful influence of the theater.
Over the last fourteen years, my life has changed dramatically through the influence of professors like Mr. King. They were willing to work with me and were able to include me in their classes with the other students. The students in the classes accepted and helped me understand what it is like to be a student in the theater department.
Reed Hahne is another UVU student with Down syndrome. He is a very successful student. He has taken Ballroom Dance, Business Presentations, Masterworks Choir, Children’s Literature and many others. Reed says, “I do not like having to do homework.” He would prefer to be with friends and going to parties. It was a good experience for his peers just to see him on campus. Reed is also part of the Utah Developmental Disabilities Council and a member of the Student Council at the Orem Institute. Our peers have a different attitude now because of knowing and being with Reed and other students with disabilities.
D. Terry Petrie, a professor in the Theatre Arts Department, says he loves having students with different abilities in his classrooms. He says he always learns something from them, and it builds acceptance and understanding in and out of the classroom. “I try to modify my curriculum to help them succeed, but at the same time, challenge them.”
Sally Larsen, a Children’s Literature professor told me “the special needs students” success is greatly aided if the parents are supportive.” She further observed that Reed and I were very conscientious and hardworking students, and we contributed to the class. The other students were very kind and helpful.
Kenneth Payne is a part time faculty member at the Orem Institute of Religion and parent of a son with Down syndrome. The special needs class now meets twice a week in a reverse mainstream. He said, “There are four classes a week with 30-40 people each.” He further states, “The mainstream students have changed the course of the program. Now, friends are coming to class that have changed their majors to special education because of their involvement in our classrooms.”
Amy Winterton, another student with Down syndrome, told me she enjoys her time here at UVU. She has been attending this institution for 10 years. She says the students are very helpful and kind to her and included her in the classes she has taken. She has taken two sewing classes, dancing, karate, public speaking and bowling. Because funding can be a problem, she has gone through the Accessibilities Department and attends only the Institute of Religion. She enjoys having friends over for parties and loves to cook. She works at a local movie theater two nights a week. She gets paid for her work. Amy shows us it takes hard work and dedication for students with Down syndrome to succeed in school.
The benefits of the attitudes and programs of UVU and the Orem Institute of Religion can be measured in the growth of all students in a number of areas, including academic and personal skill building, competitive employment self-advocacy and self –confidence. Being part of campus life, taking classes and learning to navigate a world of high expectations leads to the development of skills needed for successful adult life. The UVU environment and attitude provides the academic opportunities, and the Orem Institute allows the discovery of service to others in the community and a healthy social outlet with dances and talent shows that not only entertain, but also uplift the spirits of those who participate. Students with Down syndrome are integrated into campus life and enjoy their time here.
For further information contact Rebecca Winegar, [email protected]