It is not often that I spend time away from my family, however, as an independent college advisor and higher education professional I had an opportunity for a professional development visit on a college campus. As a mother of a child on the spectrum with learning delays and differences, I knew I could not pass up the chance to attend.
So I decided to spend two days in Putney, Vermont to learn about Landmark College,
an institution of higher education that is exclusively dedicated to students that have learning differences such as Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia. I found Landmark to be a hidden gem nestled in the woods of Vermont.
I was surrounded by education professionals from Texas, Florida and even California. We were given several presentations by various members of the college campus that included the President of the University, additional administration, faculty, and staff. Each presenter gave insightful information that proved why each where in the positions that they were. Over the two days of workshops, I was highly impressed with the theories of instruction, techniques used for students within the classroom and most importantly the overarching access to support for all students.
As we know, support is imperative to the success of individuals with learning differences, Landmark College offers the needed supports which are already embedded and integrated in the curriculum for the students. This includes support around academics, study skills, executive functioning coaching and even pet therapy programs. At Landmark, students do not have to apply or seek out these services as they would at other institutions. The services are not considered accommodations that are needed by students but more as way of life to achieve success.
I listened as presenters that fully embrace the differences of the students and use those differences to create a life both educationally and personally for the students to thrive in their own way.
For me, the most meaningful portion of the event was hearing from the students. I attended a student panel that provided tremendous insight. The students all shared how they have attended other institutions hoping the accommodations would be enough for their needs. Two students shared they attended Landmark and did really well, transferred to other schools and ultimately transferred back to Landmark because the support they received at Landmark was incomparable. Another student shared that he tried three different universities before Landmark and never felt supported at the other institutions. He also noted that once he arrived at Landmark, he was taught to understand his diagnosis and how to move forward in his educational journey and how to apply it to his everyday life . He indicated that was a game changer for him noting that instead of being ashamed of his difference, he learned to embrace it.
I also participated in a college tour lead by a student who indicated was non-verbal most of his childhood. As of mom of a five-year-old who just started to verbally communicate, this gave me hope. I asked the tour guide what his favorite part of the college was. He told me he finally felt like himself when he came to college, this college in particular, because he had a community that loved him and understood him for who he was. He told me the ability to be accepted without judgement meant everything.
As we walked through campus, I noticed the similarities to other college campus- the student artwork, the flyers and posters of various events on campus, the crowded dining hall with students interacting and joking with one another and the school spirit of the Landmark Sharks. I also could not help but notice the rope swing strategically placed in the center of the academic quad, the residence hall that was sensory friendly and the various students walking though campus with support animals.
It all just made sense and worked.
While I know that college may not be a goal or plan for some individuals, for those that believe this path is an option more opportunities are becoming available. As an educational professional and parent of a student with learning differences, I believe all students should never be limited in educational opportunities, Landmark has proved this to be true and attainable. I left this college visit as a more informed advisor but more importantly, a grateful and hopeful parent. My heart was so full because this was such an amazing experience to witness as a guiding light to the future.