Giant Wildcat Academy provides a modified college experience for students with disabilities

Giant Wildcat Academy (GWA) is working to create relationships and bring college to life for students with disabilities right out of high school.

GWA is a post-secondary education program for students who are mild to moderately disabled and have graduated high school. GWA is a partnership between the Marion Community Schools and Indiana Wesleyan University that gives students ages 18 to 22 an opportunity to explore the world beyond the walls of Marion High School.

The program gives the students a modified version of college. They take one college class, a class with a special education teacher and have a mentor.

Jamie Westgate is the special education teacher for the GWA program.

“They have a class with me where we work on their goals they have for life,” Westgate said. “Life skill goals, social skills goals and anything that will prepare them to go into the world to live on their own or to work.”

The GWA helps students to become more independent and self-sufficient, teaching them how to navigate school with a greater sense of individuality and maturity than they had in high school.

Justin Sparks, a student in the GWA program, said his favorite thing about the program is that he gets to meet new people, gets to know them and help them out in many ways.

“GWA has changed me because when I was in high school I used to not talk to anyone, but being here has helped me to open up and talk to people more,” Sparks said.

The GWA teaches students life skills they can then use once they are on their own.

Renee Arenibar, education liaison for the program, said, “Its just amazing to see their progress and to see them change from what they thought was going to be so hard, challenging and scary, to just a wonderful experience and getting to see them grow.”

The program’s main goal is to prepare the students to have a job. The program’s structure allows the students to leave with a job.

The program differs from high school because it allows the students to live independently, according to Westgate. This program provides students with an experience where they learn management and problem solving skills.

Arenibar said, “If I could tell people one thing I just want people to know that you don’t have to be a student to be a mentor, even adults can be mentors. Anyone who wants to share their time, we encourage to become a mentor.”

Article originally posted here on The Sojourn

Indiana Wesleyan University
4201 S. Washington St.
Marion, IN 46953