Supporting Neurodivergent College Students, with Drs. George & Oksana Hagerty | EDB 196


Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different
Brains. Today, we have coming to us from Leesburg,
Florida, two people who are running one of the best schools. If your brain is different you want to talk
about Beacon College. And we got with us here: the Hagertys! Greetings, Hackie. Now, why don’t you each introduce yourselves
properly, Georgian and Oksana? Because you’re such a dynamic duo couple,
I don’t want to mess it up. Sure. I’m proud to serve as the President at Beacon
College. And the journey to Beacon started out when
I was 19 years old, and I was a very rough student in college. I actually was supposed to be liberated and
I got a disease of the retina, which kind of forced me to become more far more disciplined
in my life. And I had an interest in disability as well
as in education in the financing of these programs. So I got out of college, Stonehill College,
and went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. And the same time I was doing that, I was
working Boston School Desegregation. And at the same time that that was happening,
we had our first efforts in special education in the state of Massachusetts. So I got a real exposure to the complexity
and diversity of education. I went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship
at what was called the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, and stayed on when the
Bureau converted over to the US Department of Education in 1980. I became a program officer and then a branch
chief. And after eight years, I’ve decided I wanted
to go back into higher education. I did so and also ran a consulting firm on
special education policy that was successful. We had 26 state clients trying to work on
the initial policies. So my whole life has really been involved
in the in the policy and finance arena of special ed. Ended up going on to a University Presidency,
did that for 14 years and then my wife and I traveled overseas for 5 years. And when we decided to come back, we found
this beautiful little college where Chun-Li had 187 students at the time. And thought it had a mission like no other,
which I think we’ll talk about later. So that’s how I came to be, and Oksana… I came to be joining my husband. But my joining this field started quite a
long time ago. And I’ve always been interested in education. And my Doctorate Dissertation 15 years ago
was about gifted children. And this was my first experience of working
with non-neurotypical individuals. And so when I came to Beacon 6 years ago,
this was probably the most rewarding professional experience because I got the chance to explore
educational developmental psychology when it comes to working with individuals who worked
differently. And I absolutely love it here and I got to
use a lot of knowledge and skills and I get to know much more about the human brain was
ever taught about it. Tell us about Beacon College. I think the best way to to talk about this
is I’ve been on the regulatory teams for the development of what was then called the Education
for All Handicapped Children Act, which has since become the it was the foundation for
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that really serves students pre-k through
12 now as a federal law. And I was on one of the regulatory teams that
dealt with students with learning disabilities. And we were really focused on getting this
law into place. Getting it appropriately standardized and
regulated. We knew there was a certain percentage of
the population that could go to college and could do college work and when we were– I
can remember sitting in some of those meetings saying, “Then what? Then what for these students?” Well in 1989 a group of parents, one year
before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is the is going to have its 30th
Anniversary this year. But they founded an institution, a four-year
institution, receives state approval, and after the first year had about 37 students. And the idea behind this was that they had
sons and daughters who they knew could do college work but higher education institutions
were not prepared to work with their forms of neural diversity. And they started Beacon. And the college has transformed. First of all, the overall mission has not
changed at all. But, the institution has been transformed
from one major to seven majors and four separate tracks off of those majors. It’s a liberal arts based institution. And what we have attempted to do over the
last five or six years is to create an institution that really has not existed before. A rigorous liberal arts institution fully
accredited, which we are by the Southern Association, which focuses wholy on the profile of learners
with learning disabilities, ADHD, and autistic spectrum disorder. And to do that, we teach multi-modally in
in the classroom. So Universal Design in learning is very important
to us. But we also have another feature that is absolutely
critical and knows a wrap around services. And we do not lead students by the hand, but
what we do is we guide students to keep them on track so that we can have the kinds of
student outcomes that we have. And I’d probably ask Oksana to talk about
the learning specialist model. Learning specialists are educational experts
working with students individually. And we have weekly meetings with our students
to talk about their progress and about their feelings about their studies. But the most important thing here is to really
make sure that students meaningfully engage, that they don’t escape, don’t avoid, that
there is no anxiety, there are no panic attacks. And we need to make sure our students engage
in learning. Because most of the conditions our undergraduates
have conditions that make them unavailable for learning. So we need to make them available, and there
are different ways to do it. Provide systems, provide choice, explain,
brainstorm with them, do not do the work for them. But do the work with them. And so, this is what we do when we find this
function very important. It’s not tutoring, it’s not homework helping,
it’s very different. It’s really promoting the engagement with
academic work, and it takes many different forms, but I think it’s very successful there
at beacon. One statistic that caught my eye and learning
about Beacon College was that you only accept, I believe 58% of the students who apply? That’s correct. Amplify on that? Yes, if you if you put us up on the scale
of selective, this institution’s considered a selective institution with that 58% number. But what we’re looking for is something very
different from what many other institutions will be looking for. They’ll be looking for the highest SAT scores,
the best performance in in the high school curriculum. Certainly we welcome that. But what we’re really looking for is the profile
of a student who may struggle because of one of their profiles– ADD, ADHD, LD, ASD and
who appears to have strong motivational skills to do undergraduate work. And we require an interview with the student
and certainly that the family comes along and we really tried to have individual students
and the families understand that what we are here is a fully accredited liberal arts institution
without water down curriculum that has a particular design that works well with students. But only if they’re motivated and the other
feature that I think that we we need to recognize too, is that this profile of this student
has commented issues–depression, anxiety, OCD. And many times, these are issues which further
make these students unavailable for hopeful learning. So, first year is a very important year, for
several reasons. And the student is assigned to a learning
specialist even before they come to the institution and there are several functions. First of all, we recognized some of these
students require gap learning because what they receive in case of K-12 may not have
been as robust as it should be for a college education. That’s a detriment to the students who can
do the college work, so we work on that. But there are a couple of the features. Executive function is very important in these
institutions, so socialization of these institutions, of these students within our community is
enormously important. And the last feature which can be a bit controversial
is our need to pull the student away from the parents. And we certainly understand that neither parents
have been the major advocate for our students but our job is to put them through a rigorous
four-year program and on the back and to have them truly independent when they were worthy
of a college degree. And to do that, we have a system that we believe
works. And when I came and interviewed, I had never
heard of Beacon. And I told my wife, it’s a small school but
it’s got the best mission I’ve ever seen and I think it has a lot to teach American higher
education. But if you look at the national figures, our
students graduate in 4 years at close to 70%. Our presistant’s rate is way up in the 80s
and our post-degree employment after 6 months after graduation is 83.5%. Wow! So, for this population’s profile of students
who very often do not receive the kind of work, both academic work as well as those
socialization skills, because a lot happens outside of the classroom too. Those are the real features that I really
do think makes a difference. We as parents are kind of paralyzed a little
bit, because we love our kids so much, we want to do for them, we want to make them
be successful and you getting into the issue of the hovering, the over managing, and all
the other things that we as parents do not do as well as a compassionate third-party. Let’s put it like that. You’re giving us the message that less is
more. So two things that we’re doing that really
track here because we do recognize that we’re trying to put parents out of a job. Basically and for the most part they all wish
for that and so two things that that we’ve done in the last three years we started concentrating
on emerging adulthood, including for the training of our own parents on these students are going
to change. They are going to change dramatically and
what can you do in your home. In the family life that you have, that’s not
only going to help them emerge into full-fledged adulthood, but also to understand it and accommodate
it. And that’s a very important feature, and very
honestly most undergraduate institutions should be concentrating on this as well. The other things that we’re doing with very
interested we’re very interested in college entry, and persistence and the reason is because
if you look at the national numbers, and there are not a lot of of the national databases
on the national longitudinal transitional study but that was in 2009 to show how students
enter. How they persist in the numbers and those
aren’t pretty at all. With students who have learning and attention
issues. It’s just not pretty. Last year we beta-tested a program called
Navigator prep with a gentleman Alex Morris. When he came to us about a year-and-a-half
ago and navigate to prep is an 8-month preparation for entering College. They don’t have to come to Beacon and they
can go to any other institution that they want to. The idea these families and these students
struggle mightily even before they get to the college and they desperately want for
this to succeed. So to do that Navigator prep has two tracks,
and those two tracks that are at the same time that we’re working with the student particularly
on socialization issues, which are where many of them fall down and really have difficulty,
but also academic issues, with socialization issue. We also have a track at the same time in the
track is a bit separate but at the same time we have it for the parents and what we found
from the first years. We wanted to beta test at 15 and we had to
close it at 50. And in this year were probably going to try
to do only 75 but there’s a huge need for this and it’s precisely so that the parents
can understand the process the son or daughter is going through. How they can help by really starting to back
off and allowing the students to make their own mistakes and to feel somewhat uncomfortable
with with change. What are your thoughts on the stigma attached
to people with learning differences and how do you address that? You know that is that is the ultimate hurdle
for not only for the individual but for society. The society reinforces the reason that we’ve
chosen to create the institution that we have a strong little odd college first, and then
dedicated to the profile of these learners. And the second, I have had a rough history
in special education and I’ve seen more than enough evidence that these students always
get second. And I want for these students to have first
and certainly the stigma that would be associated with going to an LD college. In short, we are not is absolutely understandable
because of what’s the one thing that all of the students have and their ambitions for
themselves is to be just like everybody else just like everybody else. So the creation of an institution, that does
not see them as different from the way that we structure the curriculum, it is a very
traditional liberal arts institution, is one major step we believe in the stigma of whether
you would attend an institution like Beacon. And our students, once they get here and are
part of a community. Let’s remember many of these students have
been marginalised previously. Haven’t had a lot of friends, their peer groups
have been relatively small, they may not have been great athletes because of some of the
issues that they may have. They may develop a little slower than others. So providing something that is exactly like
other first grade institutions. I really think that’s a way that we can deal
with the stigma, the societal stigma. All you have to do is look at the employment
rates for these students or any disability and you realize, “This statement still pretty
strong out there.” How can people learn more about Beacon College,
who now have an interest now that they’ve seen this and become acquainted with you? Well, the easiest way sounds like an advertisement
but I might as well give a little propaganda. Www.bc.edu is our website. The best way of knowing if Beacon is a kind
of institution your student is interested in, is actually to come on campus. We’re growing rather rapidly. I know it was a small number 187. But in the last five years, we’ve grown to
420, and we will grow to 500. We think that it’s the appropriate size for
this particular institution. We’ve had a number of overtures to start campuses
elsewhere. We’re trying to be very careful so that we
create the best possible undergraduate environment that we can here. But we’re right now building a new residence
hall for another hundred, which should take us to the 500 student population, and the
model is one that works for this profile of student. And also for other students who may have different
learning styles, or may have some processing issues. It’s very important to recognize that when
you’ve met one ADHD student, you met one ADHD student. And we really do try to use the best practices
of Universal Design and learning to address the issues that any of our students may bring
to us including the springs by the way. Are there any topics have we not covered today
that you’d like to cover? These are issues with our borders, there’s
no difference of the incidence rates, they may fluctuate a little bit but the one issue
that is, I think, getting–not I think, but it is getting better in the United States–is
that these students do have a future if they can get access to the right services. Overseas, two perspectives on students with
learning and attention issues which includes autistic spectrum– one is pretty negative–
which is that these are luxury disabilities. They just don’t have the resources or the
focus on, but the other end of this and it’s an increasing world view, I would say certainly
in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and in Asia. These sons and daughters of these families
really have lost lives because of the lack of services, it’s just as devastating in real
life as if they had any other disability. And certainly they may approach you and you
can’t tell that there’s a disability there, but they are either pretty much homebound
and work very menial jobs. And it really is a lost life, so this is an
issue of profound importance to Oksana and I, simply because whenever we go over we feel
that the audiences are big and then enthusiastic. But the issues are profound and the services
is a very limited. Well, That’s an eye opener isn’t it. We’ve done a great job at providing the access
to education to many students with physical disabilities and verbal disabilities. It’s not only to have to allow the key in
the classroom, it’s also that you have to provide specific services to help this student. And sometimes, like, let’s mainstream these
kids, these students. And I placed a kid in the classroom. Sure you can, you should. You should not segregate this student on the
spectrum. However, you should also provide services. And very often of providing access, this is
where the intervention stops and this is very–this is probably just as bad as not providing any
education because kids get traumatized as the kid gets the idea that, “Oh my god,
I probably can’t do that. It’s probably not my place.” So, specific lines to disabilities, cutting
access to education, providing access to services. It’s not just bringing the kid to the classroom,
it’s bringing the services to the classroom too. You, what is Beacon College do in providing
mental health counseling? We have for professional counselors on campus
for a population of 420. They certainly are busy because of the concomitant
issues of depression, anxiety and OCD, and just the drama roommate problems and all the
rest you know. But we also part of the strap around. The learning specialists pretty much know
exactly what’s going on with that student in their life and we’re small enough that
we can share all sorts of data. But we did something two years ago that is
proving very successful. We added the roll-call, a community educator
to the wraparound but also directly related to the academic program, and the role of a
community educator is to be in those natural settings for students. And those would be the dining commons of the
Student Center. Even the residences so I really don’t have
an office so to speak. And they are a wonderful, not only early warning
system, but there are a wonderful level of for us. We have two of them, and also if I’m sure
this doesn’t happen on other campuses, but some of our students, particularly are those
with ADHD, should get to go to their learning specialist meeting and so if that happens. I’m sure that never happens anywhere. So, if that happens and it happens a couple
of times because ritual is very important to these students, showing up on time, doing
the knowing, what the consequences are for any kind of behavior. It is very important and it’s kind of crazy
that we, on any campus, that we have these fully developed adults who come to colleges,
freshman they aren’t, and there are various stages of development and what it is our responsibility
if we really do care about that development is independent adults. It’s our responsibility to make sure that
we have the kinds of programs and services that will support them in the development
early on and with big leaves, and I don’t think we talked about this and scaffolding
services. And so you’re going to get pretty intensive
services your freshman year. What’s the one message about Beacon College,
Oksana, that you and George would like to leave with our audiences today? I think beacon college is really a great place
to come as a student, but also great place to be to work at as a professional. And I absolutely love the mission and the
opportunities reachiness of the different brains that I see here, I don’t think I’ve
ever seen anything like that and this is amazing and the truly educational experience is like–
this is really a better way to teach–let’s say–neuro-typicals as we do not exist. We’re probably all different but, here at
beacon, you see more. It’s kind of magnified and it keeps us away
to develop ways and methods and approaches that can be used by all the institutions,
by all the parents, by the students themselves to be more successful in quite a competitive
and complex walt. Now George, Do you have anything to add to
that? Yes, it would be to students and certainly
parents who are trying to support them. Recognize that whatever island of challenge
you think you may have should not and does not need to become the landscape of your life
and look for. First of all, don’t believe well-intentioned
experts about the boundaries that you can push as long as you are motivated. You will be amazed at the turns. Very positive turns in real life takes. If you find the right community that embraces
you and that you can embrace. Well said! Well Dr. George Haggerty, Dr. Oksana Haggerty,
thank you so much for both being with us here today at Different Brains. We hope you will visit us again. And I want to thank you so much for all you’re
doing at Beacon College for those of us whose brains are a little bit different! Thank you. Thank you for all you’re doing too.

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