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Upcoming education program ‘ELEVAR’ seeks to empower intellectually-disabled students

Upcoming education program ‘ELEVAR’ seeks to empower intellectually-disabled students

Upcoming education program ‘ELEVAR’ seeks to empower intellectually-disabled students
November 14
10:30 2020

The university will launch a four-year post-secondary education program titled Empower, Learn, Excel, enVision, Advance, Rise (ELEVAR) next fall to assist students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in finishing their education.

A collaboration between the university’s College of Education and the College of Health and Public Service, ELEVAR came about from a desire to help intellectually disabled students overcome obstacles to further education and job opportunities,  said Project Lead Brenda Barrio, an associate professor of special education.

“One of the things that is currently a major barrier for many students with intellectual disabilities is that once they finish high school, there no opportunities for them to pursue post-secondary education, employment or even a career,” Barrio said. “About 23 percent of them are able to pursue a job or career, often only part-time and often they have sub or minimum wage payment.”

While rooted in the university and its faculty, ELEVAR will be extending resources to high school students, including advising, coaching and internships.

“We built this pathway from high school, which we’re going to be working with four school districts — Fort Worth ISD, Decatur ISD, Denton ISD and Irving ISD— where we can provide coaching and support to students as well as professional development for their teachers,” Barrio said. “And from there, expanding to the rest of the community. Giving students and young adults with intellectual disabilities, who want to pursue post-secondary education and want to come to ELEVAR and have an inclusive experience. To truly be apart of a community outside of their families and empower them to be as independent as they want to be.”

To optimize its potential, ELEVAR’s leadership has largely multidisciplinary backgrounds. Among the other co-project leads is Chadra Carey, an Academic Associate Dean at the College of Health and Public Service, who said the different voices and collaboration helped enhance the project’s development.”

“We bring out respective professional and personal experiences to the table, which really enhances the overall program development,” Carey said. “As co-project lead, I will focus on oversight of the development, implementation assessment of the employment and other independent living components of the program. I will also work with the other project leads on measuring the program’s success, investigating, and disseminating information on the impact of the program activities on the students, K-12 teachers and UNT faculty.”

While ELEVAR is set to roll out next fall, Barrio said they will be planning ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, even as the university currently plans to increase the number of face-to-face classes for the upcoming semester in the spring.

“It’s very important we take into account the students’ health,” Barrio said. “If they’re not willing to come to campus, we’ll find them courses they can take online. If they’re okay with moving in with face-to-face classes, that’s something we’ll take into consideration. The program will be individualized for each one of the students. We want to make sure they have access to as much as the traditional UNT student, so we have that as a contingency.”

Elias Mpofu, a professor of the College of Health and Public Service who is guiding the program’s community engagement, said early reception across campus had been positive.

“People across campus can’t wait for this to take off in Fall 20201,” Mpofu said. “I can say there is tremendous support for the work we are doing towards that goal.”

Applications to participate in ELEVAR will open on Dec. 1. More information can be found on their Admission Information page.

“Post-secondary education has been found to be key to increasing long-term opportunities and one that has not been traditionally available to folks with intellectual disabilities,” Carey said. “ELEVAR seeks to disrupt this educational disparity for people in Texas. ELEVAR will be a pathway for students to live, learn, study, develop independence and important skills for work and career, in the collegiate setting.”

Featured Image: The team behind UNT ELEVAR stand together in front of Legends Hall on Oct. 29, 2020. ELEVAR is a four-year inclusive postsecondary education program for students with intellectual disabilities. Image by Meredith Holser

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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