The University of North Texas is getting ready to launch a new program in the fall aimed at students with intellectual and learning disabilities. It's called 'ELEVAR': Empower, Learn, Excel, enVision, Advance, and Rise.
"We want to make sure there's a pathway into life after high school," UNT Associate Professor of Special Education Brenda Barrio said. "These programs are just, in a way, opening the door for them to have those opportunities."
ELEVAR would be just the second program in Texas, and the first in North Texas, aimed at college-bound students with intellectual disabilities. It is modeled after a similar program at Texas A&M call Aggie ACHIEVE.
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"Our vision for the program was to really empower young adults with intellectual disabilities," Barrio said.
"I'm smart. I know that for a fact," Ayala Montgomery said. "I love school."
Montgomery is among the first to apply for ELEVAR, which will start with five students in the fall. She was diagnosed with a learning and intellectual disability in the third-grade.
"I have always put in her head, when you get into high school it's going to be a little bit harder, but you're going to college," Montgomery's mom, Yolanda Smith, said. "I'm so grateful there's a program out there for her so she don't feel like she's left behind."
Barrio said intellectually disabled students with college experience have up to 72% employment rate in Texas, compared to 22% employment without college.
"They're very creative. They're very hard-working," Barrio said. "So bringing all of those things can only enrich the community."
ELEVAR students will work towards a certificate of completion, not a traditional degree. They will take traditional college courses, along with courses to help them with life skills and career skills.
"It's emotional," Montgomery said thinking about her application to UNT ELEVAR. "Because I thought I'd never get this far. I thought I'd never have the opportunity. I always wanted to advocate for people who struggle with the same thing I have."
Montgomery said she wants to work in the medical field one day as a sonogram technician. In March, she'll find out if she made the first admissions cut for the first ELEVAR class at UNT, which will start in the fall of 2021 with five students.