WILMINGTON — At Wilmington College, where student mentorship by faculty and staff is a hallmark, sometimes students helping other students through a potent combination of peer empathy, experience and friendship also leads to success.
That has been the case for a number of students trying to navigate through college with learning disabilities and other challenges that might impede their academic achievements.
The Office of Academic Services under director Dr. Leighann Oettinger, assistant professor of education, features a program known as “1-on-1: Students Helping Students” in which four interns assist students with learning disabilities in locating and utilizing the resources available that will help them succeed.
This past school year, they included senior Shelby Jeffries and juniors Michael Kleem, Sidney DuBois and Alisa Turner.
“They are all committed to normalizing disabilities so students feel confident and comfortable with who they are and confident and comfortable using accommodations available to them,” Oettinger said. “I know some students that would not have used accommodations had they not met with our interns.”
At least two of the interns themselves have learning disabilities, a characteristic Oettinger said often lends itself to creating a sense of empathy with students in need that makes requesting accommodations easier.
Accommodations might include allowing extended time for taking tests, testing in a quiet location, electronic recording of lectures, using note-takers and taking electronic tests. Oettinger is quick to emphasize that accommodations enable students to access content and to better share what they’ve learned — course content is not altered.
Various students have been diagnosed with such learning disabilities as dyslexia (difficulty reading), bipolar (extreme mood swings), Attention Deficit Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
“The students with disabilities are getting much more support than I alone have been able to provide,” Oettinger said, adding the interns sign confidentiality statements. “More students are getting individual support.”
Not only do the interns work with students with learning disabilities but also those on academic probation and student-athletes at risk of not being eligible to play their sport. They often help students’ hone organizational skills and study strategies, transcribe lectures, coach them in time-management and simply discuss such issues as homesickness, setting goals, the transition to college and how their learning disability affects them.
In a nutshell, it’s about offering support and friendship.
One of the interns shared the story of not knowing (he/she) had a learning disability until high school, where (he/she) was “teased and bullied” and often told, “I would never graduate. Then I was told I would never make it in college, that I should just find a job.
“Now I’m in college doing better than ever. The reason why I am so successful is because now I get the support I need,” (he/she) added. “I find my Wilmington College professors to be extra supportive and understanding.”