Pilot Program Preparing Pre-College Students with Learning Challenges

The UA Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center's Road Map to College program is aiding high school students who have learning disabilities to lay out a plan for college.
Jan. 13, 2010
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The UA's Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center served nearly 590 students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders used SALT services in 2009 compared with 552 in 2007. This year, the center celebrates its 30th year.

Rudy Molina, the UA SALT Center's assistant director for external relations and research, said students with learning challenges often need additional encouragement and support in their pursuits for a higher education. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)
Rudy Molina, the UA SALT Center's assistant director for external relations and research, said students with learning challenges often need additional encouragement and support in their pursuits for a higher education. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)
The UA SALT Center's Road Map to College program engages students in their home school environments, teaching them early and often about higher education. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)
The UA SALT Center's Road Map to College program engages students in their home school environments, teaching them early and often about higher education. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)
The premise behind starting the Road Map to College was to help encourage students with learning disabilities that higher education is not beyond their reach. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)
The premise behind starting the Road Map to College was to help encourage students with learning disabilities that higher education is not beyond their reach. (Photo courtesy of Dejah Miranda-Huxley)

What started as two-week summer program for high school students with learning challenges has since grown into an extensive program that one teachers said is shifting the priorities of those involved. 

The University of Arizona's Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques, or SALT Center, initiated the Road Map to College program in response to a pervasive concern. 

SALT, a 30-year-old center at UA that supports students who have learning and attention challenges, initiated the pilot program, known as RMC, at Pueblo High School in 2008.

Most of the students involved are in their second year in high school.

Students with learning disabilities tend to need additional support in their efforts toward pursuing a higher education. It is both a local and national challenge, said Rudy Molina, the SALT Center's assistant director for external relations and research.

"We find that a lot of K-12 students with learning challenges aren't necessarily prepped," Molina said, noting that students may have dyslexia, reading difficulties, auditory processing difficulties or other learning disabilities. 

"We want to help them get on track because we believe that if they are given the opportunity, they will achieve their goals," Molina added. 

SALT RMC, which is still in its pilot phase, includes weekly announcements and monthly workshops at Pueblo High School, informing students to begin thinking critically about the college-going process.

"We thought, 'How can we build this relationship over time?' If we are going to promote college access then we must set this up and be able to have this presence," Molina said.

Part of the challenge in aiding students with learning disabilities, in general, is the perception certain people carry about students with learning challenges, said Dejah Miranda-Huxley, an office specialist for the UA's SALT Center, who facilitates the program with Molina. 

But she and Molina are now spending more time communicating with the students at Pueblo High School, informing them of the steps they must take now to prepare to apply for and being admitted into colleges. 

Students in the program also are involved in confidence-building exercises and learn writing, studying and other skills necessary to achieve academically.

The crux of the program is to ensure the program's targeted students have a strong foundation about what is required of college students prior to setting foot on a college campus. 

"There is an idea that these students are not college-bound – simply because they are in exceptional education," Miranda-Huxley said."But there is a line out the door with students coming to the program."

Edna Mariscal, an exceptional education teacher at Pueblo High School, said the program has become so popular that general education students have begun to ask to join.

Mariscal said that while she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the UA, it had been somewhat difficult sometimes being the sole voice in the classroom encouraging the students to think early about college. 

Now that she's had the backing of Molina and Miranda-Huxley, much has changed. 

"The camaraderie among the students has been overwhelming," she said. "They support one another and are very united as a result of this program." 

Previously, the school had to pull students from their courses to attend the program but has since begun offering the course at a designated time.  

Also, the conversations about college are more broad and frequent, Mariscal said. 

"Now, they are more conscientious about their grades and their class standing," she said.

"I see a huge improvement of awareness and of students taking ownership of their own academic standing," she added. "It's wonderful, and it's so positive. While it took a  couple of years to get the program going, it's improving."