Riding the Aggies Elevated roller coaster

By Dawn Bagley, parent

(Note: “Cannibal” is the name of a roller coaster at Lagoon, an amusement park near Utah State University. Dawn sent this e-mail to Aggies Elevated program director Sarah Bodily and gave permission for us to publish it.)

I met Bryce at Lagoon a couple weekends ago with some of our other children, and went on Cannibal for the first time. I’m not an overly adventurous person, but I felt like I wanted to go on it. I decided to not think too much about what we were about to do and just patiently wait in line, while distracting myself with conversations with the kids. When I got into the stall, waiting to board the ride, I had a minor panic attack, but moved forward, because what else was there to do at this point? Getting buckled in, my anxiety piqued and I started giving the kids instructions on what to do if I had a cardiac event while on the ride. As the doors opened at the top of the ride, I thought, this isn’t so bad, but was also anxious to get the first part of it over with. I like roller coasters, I just don’t like heights. The rest of the ride was over before I knew it, but was exhilarating and full of all of the ups and downs you expect and enjoy from a ride like this, and I would definitely do it again.

Getting Bryce to Utah State in the Aggies Elevated program has been similar to my experience at Lagoon on the Cannibal. When I heard about Aggies Elevated, I instantly knew this was for Bryce and set out on over a year’s process of getting him accepted and ready. During that time, I had to distract myself from thinking about what was about to happen and just plug along, knowing that this would be an amazing opportunity for him. As the semester opened with the Connections class I had a little panic trying to figure out how this was all going to work, but we moved forward, because of two things; I have faith that this was where Bryce is supposed to be, and I also have faith in this program and the people running it. Moving day was filled with last-minute, anxiety-filled instructions to Bryce and his sister on how I thought things should be taken care of in my absence.

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Bryce and Dawn at Utah State University.

The entire time of preparing him to get there I kept telling myself, ‘If we can just get him there it will be fine. If we can just get him there and settled, he will take off.’ I was only slightly prepared for the roller coaster ride of keeping him there. I have to say though; you and your staff did an excellent job priming me for the experience. I was pleased that he contacted me a lot during the first month of being up there because I needed it as much as he did. I got things like:

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My full-time job became keeping him there, which I was mostly prepared for due to you and your staff’s counseling and prep work. At times my mama bear would come lumbering out of her cave and would almost jump in my car and make the trip to Logan to fix everything. During this time I listened to your Parents Question and Answer session from Orientation (over and over) and it soothed my nerves. You said,

“There is dignity in taking risks, and there is dignity in failing. And it’s okay if Johnny comes in and does part of an assignment and then goes, ‘oh, dang, I really should have done more on that’ and learns from it, instead of mom coming in and saving his bacon and making it so that everything is wonderful. We all learn from failure. We all learn from taking risks outside of our comfort zone.  So often, (I wouldn’t say that any of your students are in that place because they’re here today), we shield our students from taking those big steps and those things that our other students without disabilities may just naturally do, because we don’t want them to fail; it’s devastating when they do but what do we learn from that failure. And I think that’s a good balance to look at. Hey, is this something that they can fail safely; and Aggies Elevated is a really good place to learn those things and suffer consequences that happen in a very supported environment.”

I grew to understand that you are not setting him up for failure, but that you are setting the stage for him to fail in a safe environment so he can learn.

I grew to understand that you are not setting him up for failure, but that you are setting the stage for him to fail in a safe environment so he can learn. It has been hard to help him see why he needs to be there and I didn’t want a failure to make him throw his hands in the air and give up. It’s been so exciting for me to watch him learn how to learn.  I heard a lot of ‘I don’t like homework… Homework is hard… I don’t know why we take notes.’ One day, on the phone, he told me that someone had called him about woodworking. I asked, who it was, what they called for, where they were from. He couldn’t answer any of my questions. This. This is why we are learning to take notes. Those moments when he recognizes how it applies to his real-world life and makes the connection. They are sometimes few and far between, but we see the wisdom in steps.

It has occurred to me that this experience has been as much for me as it has been for Bryce. As it is with most parents, we tend to do too much for our children, and for children with disabilities, maybe more so. I’m learning to let go and let be; to step back and let you do your job and also let him figure it out.

This has been the most painful, stressful and tearful, yet joyous, exciting and spiritual experience. And I just wanted to thank you for the ride. Thank you for the weekly progress reports, they soothe my soul. You and your staff are amazing and we appreciate all of your hard work and wonderful specialized set of skills and talents you each have. You make a difference in people’s lives!

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

Putting it all together

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Students in Career Related Social Skills listen to a recorded lecture on stress management during the last week of fall semester classes at Utah State University.

In Career Related Social Skills, second-year students begin the process of pulling together the essential information they’ve gathered in their first three semesters in preparation for the job hunt that will begin in their fourth and final semester.

“Students have opportunity to apply what they are learning through the semester in their internships and then report on it through a final portfolio,” said Aggies Elevated Program Director Sarah Bodily, who teaches the course. “The portfolio could come through any format they felt showed their skills.”

Some students created a web site using free tools like Wix, while others chose to create presentations instead. In addition to portfolio staples like resumes (in video and print form), photos or videos of the students at work, and personal statements, students picked three additional products to showcase in their portfolio.

“Many created PowerPoints explaining their disabilities and how it affects them in work, checklists to help them be more productive, or videos to review social skills that they want to work on,” Bodily said.

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

Aggies Elevated presents at the State of the Art Conference

presentAggies Elevated was well-represented at the 2017 State of the Art Conference at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, Nov. 15 and 16. The conference brought together more than 300 educators, professionals, parents and students, all focused on the topic of inclusive post-secondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities

Former Aggies Elevated mentor and current doctoral student in Disability Studies, Kayla Currier Kipping, presented with Aggies Elevated Career Success Coordinator Sue Reeves in a breakout session. The presentation was titled, “Embracing Change: Motivational Interviewing to Help Students Overcome Resistance and Achieve Goals,” and grew out of training delivered to Aggies Elevated mentors.

Reeves presented with Katrina Dubree from Next Steps at Vanderbilt, a post-secondary program in Nashville, on the value of having a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor on the staff of a post-secondary education program.

The two-day conference featured about 40 breakout sessions in strands including policy updates, campus life, employment, program development and evaluation, academics, research and evaluation, independent living, family and community support, and transition to college. For the first time, a concurrent Student Leadership Conference for about 100 students was held.

“It’s always a great conference, with great information and wonderful people,” Reeves said. “Kayla and I are already brainstorming proposal ideas for next year, and we would love to take one of our Aggies Elevated students to the Student Leadership Conference.”

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

IL seminar features interpersonal skills

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Interpersonal skills were the focus of the first eight weeks of the fall semester Independent Living Seminar, led by Career Success Coordinator Sue Reeves and Kayla Currier Kipping, a former Aggies Elevated mentor and current Disability Studies doctoral student.

“Most of the students say making friends is a big goal when they come to college, yet many lack the necessary skills,” Reeves said. “Sometimes, our thoughts get in the way of meeting people or developing new friendships.”

Students were taught how to identify cognitive distortions, or “Instagram filters for your emotions.” Examples of these distortions include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, mind-reading, fortune-telling, and catastrophizing.

“These distortions, or ‘filters,’ make it seem like an emotion is real, when it isn’t,” Reeves said. “By teaching the students how to identify these filters, they could then change how they thought about the emotions they were feeling, which led to different actions, which then led to different outcomes.”

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

Resilience as an employment skill

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Hannah and Tucker demonstrate the power of support! Wrapping rubber bands around rolled up tubes of paper strengthens them enough to support the weight of several books.

Resilience and emotional self-regulation are important employment skills, so we begin teaching them from the very first semester in Aggies Elevated.

During the Fall 2017 semester, Aggies Elevated utilized the WhyTry resilience education curriculum in the Orientation to Adult Learning and Independent Living class for first-year students and the Internship Seminar for second-year students.

“Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from challenging situations, is an important employment skill,” said Sue Reeves, Career Success Coordinator at Aggies Elevated. “Staying calm when a co-worker annoys you or when a customer yells at you can be the difference between being successfully employed or losing your job. This curriculum helps students to identify strategies they can use in a pressure situation so they can remain in control and be successful.”

Through a series of 10 visual analogies, video clips and activities, students learn how to use their strengths and supports to overcome the challenges in their lives. At the end of the semester, first-year students created a presentation to explain one of the analogies by choosing their own video clip and explaining how it related to a situation in their lives. The second-year students chose from several options to create a final project in which they identified an emotional self-regulation skill that they want to improve, researched it, and produced a creative project around the skill.

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

Day on the Quad

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Day on the Quad is an opportunity for students to get connected with services, clubs and organizations on campus. On Wednesday, August 30, 2017, Aggies Elevated was part of Day on the Quad.

We set up a booth on the south side of the Quad near the Family Life building. Aggies Elevated students, mentors and volunteers staffed the booth in two hour shifts to spread the word about the program and recruit volunteers. In all, more than three dozen new volunteers signed on to provide support to our students as study group tutors, on-call tutors or just to “hang out.”

“It was great to see so many students out wanting to get involved,” said Aggies Elevated Program Director Sarah Bodily. “It gave us a great venue to recruit volunteers from many disciplines. We’ll do it again next year!”

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.

Golden Key Awards

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On September 28, 2016, two Aggies Elevated students were honored with scholarships at the annual Governor’s Golden Key Awards! Governor Gary Herbert presented the awards to first-year students Josh and Berkeley at a ceremony in Salt Lake City. Later in the week, Josh and Berkeley celebrated with the other Aggies Elevated students with cupcakes and soda.

In addition, Aggies Elevated as a program was recognized for its efforts to promote awareness, advocate and empower people with disabilities in Utah.

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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.