You know how I know it’s going to be a good day? Because my intern is taking over this space today. I’m so happy to have Kirsta Graf back here today (she’s been busy at school!) talking about some pros and cons of college life and what she’s learning. If you’re new here, Kirsta has Down syndrome and is a first year student at Bethel University as part of their BUILD program. Bethel is one of the 267 universities in this country that offers inclusive higher education programs for people with intellectual disabilities. I had the opportunity last year to travel with Ruby’s Rainbow to witness Kirsta’s family drop her off at college (you’ll get to see all this next month, and you won’t want to miss it–tear jerker!), and now I’m so thrilled to have Kirsta share about her college experience here on the blog.
As Kirsta’s mom says, “It isn’t nothing” meaning it’s not like she dropped her off at college, waved goodbye and booked a cruise for Italy. There are a number of extra challenges, both for students and parents, that come with being a part of these programs, but Kirsta, her family and the university staff are committed to facing those challenges and finding creative ways to overcome them because they know that Kirsta’s future will benefit.
Kirsta’s mom shared, “A lot of the challenges that have come up at school are things we never thought to address with Kirsta. You don’t know what she doesn’t know until you find out that she doesn’t know it, if you know what I mean”–which is true of any child, but sometimes with intellectual disabilities, some of the secondary lessons you expect kids to pick up without having to literally lay them out need to be specified.
The wonderful thing about Kirsta’s college experience is that these life lessons are bubbling to the surface, giving everyone the opportunity to live through and learn them together, and the product is beautiful growth–sometimes in baby steps, sometimes in noticeable leaps. I’ve visited four colleges that offer these programs now, and I am so impressed with the staff that make them come to life. Expectations are high, and while all the resources these students need are provided, it can be challenging for parents to remove themselves as one of those resources to help their kids lean on the other ones they’re encouraged to use. Ultimate goal? More independence.
One of my favorite phone calls from Kirsta’s mom last year was when she called to tell me that Kirsta spent her monthly coffee shop budget in one week.
“Alicia,” I told her, “This is awesome. This means her college experience is just like everyone else’s because you do realize, thousands of other college freshman called their parents this year asking for more money because they were broke after the first week.”
And my favorite thing to hear about is how Kirsta, her family, peers and college staff work together to come up with creative strategies and accommodations to learn these lessons. I’ve tucked away many ideas, written things down and have been so encouraged by the lessons Kirsta is sharing. I know that we too will face these challenges in the future, and we will overcome them.
Today, Kirsta is sharing some pros and cons of college life and some of the things she’s learning.
Take it away Kirsta.
COLLEGE LESSONS I’VE LEARNED
College life is great because I get to go to a coffee shop called Royal Grounds a lot. I like to get Turtle Mocha or a Chai Tea or a Pumpkin Latte. BUT…
…sometimes I buy too much fancy coffee and I’m getting in trouble. I’ve had three in one day!
I love having fun and kind roommates. I have awesome girls on first floor Nelson Dorm! BUT…
…I missed my home and mom and dad and sisters. They miss me too, but they’re ok.
It’s awesome to climb a ladder into my cozy built-in bunk bed with a curtain. BUT…
it’s not fun to get the stomach flu away from home and throw up all over your bed (not so cozy then).
* Kirsta’s mom said she never thought about teaching Kirsta how to take care of herself when she’s sick, so they learned so many lessons this year!
I am proud because I have learned to do a Google calendar and I am good at it. I add things like, “Clean your glasses.” (my mom makes me.) BUT…
…sometimes I don’t check the Google calendar and I miss fun nighttime activities, like a Target run or a movie. And I have to clean my glasses!
It’ pretty cool that I get to make my own choices about a lot of things I want to do. My mom and dad could not tell me (ha!) BUT…
I had to learn to get up and be on time to class on my own. That’s been going ok. Now I’m an early bird. I always make it to breakfast.
My favorite is hanging out with friends from high school that go to Bethel. Especially “the guys”. BUT…
Learning to keep in my own space as a roommate is hard sometimes when you’ve had your own room.
It is helpful that my teachers really care and try to help me with my studies and learning to be independent. BUT…
My teachers don’t mess around. If we do something wrong or against the rules they are honest and we have consequences.
I had to do finals in my classes. I could Facetime my mom and dad and family if I was worried about finals, and I did fine. My sisters came to help me study too. BUT…
I was very nervous about finals. And I had a lot of tears about them. I sent A LOT of texts that said, “I’m nerves about finils.”
I live in a cool suite where I can watch movies and we have a coffee maker too. BUT…
It’s not my favorite to clean our room. We have to empty trash and vacuum and clean the bathrooms.
I love chapel and vespers and all the kind, loving, understanding students that Bethel has. AND…
I’m learning that I need also to be growing in love and kindness and thinking of others, not just myself.
I’m so grateful to have Kirsta in this space and can’t wait to share more of her journey with you. If you missed her first post, you can find it here. And it is my great pleasure to send Kirsta a check for every post she writes here. You can find out more about colleges that offer programs for people with intellectual disabilities at thinkcollege.net and more about Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship opportunities for people with Down syndrome here. Kirsta reads your feedback, and your words are encouraging and helpful. Tell us–what lessons do you remember learning in college and what challenges were particularly difficult?