Program helps residents gain real world, college experience


On Saturday mornings, when the rest of campus is quiet, the K-State Student Union is alive with students. The students here, however, aren’t the same ones who visit Monday through Friday and they aren’t learning about U.S. history, agriculture, or biochemistry.

These students face challenges on a whole different level. They are students who are a part of Extending College Education for Lifelong Learning (EXCELL).

EXCELL offers a variety of classes for adults with developmental disabilities in Manhattan and the surrounding areas. Approximately 50 participants meet on Saturday mornings at the Union for two, five-week sessions during each K-State semester.

The program, founded in spring 2010, fills a gap faced by many developmentally disabled adults in the community.

“What has happened is that with inclusion, they do have friends in [high] school, but when they get to the time when they exit school, by graduating or aging out, those friends go off and do other things, and they don’t have anything to do,” said Warren White, professor of special education, counseling and student affairs.

While various other programs in the Manhattan areas offer services for developmentally disabled adults, there is often a waiting list. EXCELL can fill that gap.

“This program offers some enrichment experiences for adults who often have no other opportunities to get out and socialize and continue their education,” said Linda Teener, executive director of continuing education. “They have mild developmental or cognitive disabilities and make it difficult for them to function in a traditional setting.”

The class was inspired by a similar program at Johnson County Community College, but when White first heard about the program at Johnson County he was unsure of the likelihood of K-State implementing a similar program.

“Johnson County could do it, but K-State is a four-year research institution and I wasn’t sure if we could,” White said. “But I went and visited Johnson County, and I really got interested.”

White returned to K-State and worked with various professionals from the university and community to initiate EXCELL.

“The university has been very enthusiastic. I’ve never been in an organization where 30 or 40 so diverse people have come together and unanimously agreed on something,” White said.

Classes vary each semester. Currently, classes that are offered include Advanced Sign Language, Money Matters, How to Prepare Recipes, Experiencing ROTC and Introduction to Leadership and Story Telling Travels.

Money Matters has been an especially popular class.

“This is the third semester that we have offered Money Matters. In it, they learn some basic money handling skills like how to count money,” Teener said. “Everyone in the class is given a $10 debit card at the beginning of the class. They learn to keep track of that money. They use it primarily for snacks during the break time, and they have to account for all the money they have spent.”

The classes are taught primarily by certified special education teachers, but are also taught by people who just want to share their passion.

In addition to life skills, the program is designed the give participants a modified college experience.

“We treat them as much like college students as allowed,” Teener said. “They have a special K-State ID card they show very proudly. We also try to give them some college experiences.”

Last semester, EXCELL students had the opportunity to “tailgate” in Bosco Student Plaza before a football game.

“We had a cook-out and K-State cheerleaders came. They really enjoyed that,” Teener said.

In addition to special field trips, EXCELL students interact with K-State student ambassadors each Saturday. The ambassadors are typically students in the special education program within the college of education.

“The ambassadors may take on mentoring students, and they are there to socialize with the student, and help get students where they need to go during break. They help provide a good experience for the students,” Teener said.

For EXCELL student Marsha Mansfield, 47, the ambassadors are a highlight of the program.

“I love having a lot of fun there with the ambassadors. They are very friendly and nice,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield’s classmate, Lauren Haun, 28, agreed that the program offers many collegiate-like opportunities she enjoys. This semester, Haun is enrolled in Experiencing ROTC and Introduction to Leadership.

“It’s very fun. I took Experiencing ROTC because I wanted to take something new,” Haun said. “It looked fun to try. I’m excited to learn about gun safety, especially.”

Haun graduated from Manhattan High School Campus West in 2002. Now, she works during the week for K-State Dining Services as a dishwasher at Kramer Dining Center.

While Haun is employed, many of the participants are not. EXCELL offers education on how to acquire jobs for interested participants.

“We offer job skill preparation, including classes on how to interview and how to put a resume together,” Teener said. “We take field trips around the Union to see the jobs that are there, too.”

The program is currently funded through a grant that covers the rent for the Union and various other expenses. Teener said EXCELL will pursue all of the available options in order to continue funding the program.

“We will be looking for other sources of funds. We will be doing grant writing and searching for donations,” Teener said. “It’s not terribly expensive, but we will be doing those things to help with funding in the future.”

Both Teener and White hope to see a stable, or growing, program in the future.

“I see it at least continuing at this level,” White said. “There is a trend nationally for programs like EXCELL to grow into residential programs where students stay in the college dorms. However, I don’t see EXCELL going to that extreme.”

Although a residential program isn’t in the future, Teener said she would enjoy the program continuing to grow in numbers and services.

“I think we would like to continue to see it grow in the number of students who come. We would also like to expand classes, and the area of being able to take it further in providing further college-type experiences,” she said. “We would also like to provide more employment-type experiences for those who are capable of working. They want to work, and we want to support that.”

While there are hopes for growth in the future, Haun said she is very happy with the current program.

“I really like being with my fellow students, classmates, and ambassadors,” Haun said. “I love just being a college student in general.”