Regina Watts is the special needs and disability services coordinator at Albany Technical College and the director of Leveraging Education for Advancement Program (L.E.A.P.), the school’s inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) program.
Watts started the program shortly after arriving at Albany Tech. She had worked in the disability space for over a decade prior, and she had seen the need for an inclusive pathway. “I wanted to create a program for those students that would possibly not have the opportunity to go to college.”
At L.E.A.P., students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) take courses with peers and receive support through mentorship. After two years, students earn a certificate and graduate with their class.
There are now nine IPSE programs in the state of Georgia. L.E.A.P., entering its fifth year, is the only one hosted by a technical school, where extra emphasis is given to hands-on education and practical experience.
Students enrolled in the program typically complete a Business Office Assistant certificate, a credential approved by the Technical College System of Georgia and made up of six courses also available to Albany Tech’s larger student population.
Recently, the school’s board approved Watts for 15 other certificates that students had expressed interest in. This semester is the first time a student has registered for a new certification.
The student registered for an Infant/Toddler Childcare Specialist certificate, and her ultimate goal is to work at a day care.
“Students who probably would not have had an opportunity to go to college can come to the L.E.A.P. program and get what they need academically, socially and mentally as well – get the tools tha
t [will] help them go into the world of independent living,” Watts said. “It means the world to me.”
Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, there are currently seven students enrolled in L.E.A.P. Three of the students are attending virtually, and four are taking classes on campus. One of the students in L.E.A.P. is currently completing his last course, and the program welcomed two new students this semester, one of whom is a dual-enrolled high school student.
Students in the program are exposed to a variety of experiences, including conferences, internships, mock interviews, volunteering and job-shadowing. COVID-19 has disrupted many of these opportunities, but the work hasn’t stopped by any means.
The program currently has two mentor/tutors available to students for personalized assistance, one on campus and one virtual. Watts says that virtual learning is as inclusive as it can be, but she’s currently working out ways to create a more fulfilling digital experience with virtual tours and workshops.
Under Watts’ direction, the program has been able to leverage its position at a small, technical college to best accommodate those it serves. She hopes to keep it small and flexible, so she can continue providing her students with thoughtful and effective services.
“I want to give an example of my very first student,” said Watts. “He is the innovator in the video on my webpage. He blossomed into the person who was able to create a video, to be a part of the video that introduces what the L.E.A.P. program is all about. I am just so happy to be able to help someone to achieve their dreams.”