Inaugural graduation for CICE program at Conestoga College

The inaugural class of Conestoga College's Community Integration through Co-operative Education program will graduate in June, but students participated in a pre-graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

Program helps students with developmental disabilities integrate into mainstream college programs

On Wednesday, Conestoga College recognized nine students from the CICE program who will be graduating in June. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

It's customary to shake the president's hand when accepting a graduation gift. What's not so customary is giving the president a hug, and then getting right in there beside him and insisting on a group shot, which is what Jessica Hannah did. But then, Hannah tends to do what's not expected of her.

In June, Hannah will be one of the first nine students to graduate from the Community Integration through Co-operative Education program at Conestoga College.

The program is designed to teach professional and life skills to students with developmental disabilities, while at the same time supporting their integration into mainstream college programs like recreation and leisure and early childhood education.

Jessica Hannah says having a learning strategist helped her get past some of the barriers that made succeeding at college difficult in the past. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

"She's pretty well done this on her own with our support. We're very, very proud of her," said Bob Hannah, who attended a special pre-graduation ceremony for his daughter on Wednesday. 

"I think she's very proud of herself, and she's come a long way. She tried the ECE program when she first started at college here and she just found it a little too hard, and she was a little disappointed. So, when this program came up, she took advantage of it."

Our students, they never thought they'd go to college- Shannon Lipski, manager of the CICE program

As a CICE student, Hannah was matched with learning strategists who could help her with difficult course work. 

"It's really, really exciting to see how much Jessica has grown," said Kristin Doering, one of the strategists who worked most closely with Hannah. "She has grown emotionally. She's grown socially. She's grown academically.... I'm definitely extremely proud of her and all of her accomplishments."

Personal support

Doering's job was to help Hannah with her homework and assignments, and to modify her tests and course work. She said the challenge was knowing when to help and when to sit back and let Hannah take the reins. 

"When you first meet the student, you're trying to learn what their learning needs are and what their strengths are," she said. "Once you figure that out, then it is really easy to modify the assignments to help the student in the best way possible."

Hannah said she wouldn't have been able to complete the course without Doering's help.

"She helped me get past the boundaries that I was having problems with, and helped me focus on my school," she said.

Expanding the program

The two-year CICE program began in January 2015 with 13 students and has been accepting 12 students every fall since then. 

Program manager Shannon Lipskie says the college hopes to expand enrolment to 16 students in 2018, and to allow even more students in after that. 

"I think what people need to understand is that our students, they never thought they'd go to college," she said.

"For some people, they go to college and sort of take that for granted, because they believe that's their next step in life. But, for these students, it was a dream that they never really thought they would have. So their eagerness and they're willing to do really well and to learn is amazing."

The inaugural CICE class, including Hannah, will officially graduate in June.