For many MSU students with disabilities, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges. Whether that be the enforcement of social distancing or regulated stay-at-home orders, the lives of our Spartans have changed, causing students to embark upon remote learning. For many people, face-to-face interactions create impactful and engaging social encounters which help them thrive on campus, and for some RCPD students, extra guidance beyond the academic and social support available at home has made all the difference.
As Spartans take on remote education, RCPD signature programs like Building Opportunities for Networking & Discovery (BOND) for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and the Stern Tutoring & Alternative Techniques for Education (STATE) Program for students with learning disabilities have worked tirelessly to support their participants through improvisation.
Social interactions can be challenging for individuals on the autism spectrum, and the BOND program has been able to continue encouraging the social skills of its participants through virtual meetups, creating a safe, supportive environment for students to engage. Since student ability to participate in group events has diminished during these unprecedented times, the guidance provided by BOND Coordinator and RCPD Specialist Lindsay Hill has been crucial in connecting and supporting BOND participants. Previously, social engagements would have meant group dinners, game nights, and bowling, but during this new time of social distancing, mentorship has emerged as more important than ever. The team of BOND peer mentors, who are fellow Spartans with strong social and academic skills, have volunteered their time and abilities to help ensure mentees have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
With some newfound free time, students were able to quickly learn more about themselves and their educational desires as a Spartan. BOND participants utilized online communication opportunities to connect with individuals that would help make conscious decisions to fit their personal strengths and interests.
“This was a difficult transition for BOND since most of our activities and programming happens in person, but we were able to offer several virtual meet-ups and even a graduation celebration for our graduating students and mentors,” said Hill. “We look forward to getting back together in the Fall!”
The STATE program, a resource of guidance and instruction for students with learning differences, has similarly found a successful method to help students maximize ability while remote. While working through various strategies for academic accomplishments, peer mentoring has been a major component in adapting and implementing newfound experiences at-home. Thanks to Ashley Maloff, Chronic Health Disabilities Specialist, and Kelsey Foote, Learning Disabilities Specialist, students have been engaging in weekly Zoom meetings during the regularly scheduled seminar times, and personal meetings via FaceTime and Skype, to facilitate an opportunity for growth.
“What really stuck out to me during the transition online for STATE this spring was how persistent our students were in the program,” said Foote, “They kept attending our weekly sessions, utilized their mentors and tutors, and asked more questions than ever, even though we had a drastic change in format. They supported each other (and us!) and we appreciated their resilience so much. It turned out to be an incredibly successful semester for our STATE students, despite the unique circumstances!”
Due to the suspension of in-person classroom settings, both students and specialists have had to collectively navigate remote learning together. To accommodate this change in programming, tutoring hours, a vital component of STATE, became virtual and the number of tutoring sessions increased to meet needs. As a program that also incorporates interactive activities and guest speakers, STATE shifted gears to participant-based learning, where learning was encouraged from the experiences of one another. According to Maloff and Foote, students were able to discuss their adjustments to remote learning, offering suggestions and ways of incorporating at-home self-care, to promote academic success. Through STATE program empowerment, student participants became a resource for one another, in ways they might not have found before on campus.
The RCPD Team has continued to provide support for members of the community through virtual ways of interaction. From these signature programs, students have built closer relationships through frequent conversations and collaborative interactions, which has enhanced their experiences since online learning began.
For more information on these and other RCPD initiatives, please see our Signature Programs page.