Albany Technical College’s Leveraging Education for Advancement Program Provides Opportunities for Students of All Abilities

Albany Technical College (ATC) provides unique opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to continue their education after high school through inclusive post secondary education (IPSE). IPSE programs like ATC’s Leveraging Education for Advancement Program (LEAP)  are gaining in popularity throughout the state of Georgia and across the country. There are now 314 IPSE programs in the U.S. with nine in Georgia.

LEAP focuses on developing academic, personal, and self-advocacy skills that lead to employment. Now in its sixth year, LEAP has 12 alumni. In Fall 2022, ten students were enrolled—its largest class yet.

“IPSE programs change the lives of our students, their households, and the belief that there is hope for people with developmental disabilities,” said Regina Watts, Director of Special Needs and LEAP Director at Albany Technical College.

LEAP is a unique IPSE option because students can earn one of fifteen certificates created for the program. Since all certificates are approved by the Technical College System of Georgia, any student at ATC can earn the certificates, not just LEAP students.

LEAP is an inclusive college program, meaning that students with IDD take courses alongside students without IDD. LEAP students are required to meet the same standards as all other students in their courses with some modifications, such as length of writing assignments. Additionally, LEAP students have support from mentor tutors that provide one-on-one attention to ensure students have the support they need to complete their coursework.

LEAP mentor tutors are education professionals, many who have experience working in the public school system. Mentor tutors assist students who may need extra help with reading comprehension as well as teaching life skills. With a focus on incorporating life skills into their existing coursework, mentor tutors teach students about time management and task attention during their one-on-one sessions.

To ensure that mentor tutors can provide quality attention to students, LEAP concentrates on offering 1-2 of the eligible certificates per year. Current students are earning their Business office Assistant or Early Childhood certificates. Last semester students earned Horticulture certificates.

In addition to academics, LEAP focuses on independent living skills. Even on days they don’t have courses, LEAP students come to campus to work with mentor tutors, to discuss current events, and to participate in campus-wide activities. LEAP students are fully integrated into all campus activities, including Homecoming, tailgating, and Spring Fling. They participate in community and volunteer activities, such as Toys for Tots, as well. Students also attend campus workshops on nutrition and healthy food choices.

ATC is located in an area of southwest Georgia where up to 90% of students live under the poverty level. Because of this, LEAP plans field trips to help students explore Georgia. Watts is currently planning a trip to explore Albany through civil rights museums, the heritage center, and local aquarium.

Watts hears stories from parents and students about how much the LEAP program has changed their lives for the better. “You cannot imagine how much development I saw in my daughter,” one mother shared. “When my daughter was finishing high school, I was asking everyone ‘what now, what’s next for my her?’ Then I heard about the LEAP program.”

“These are the types of stories I want a legislator to know,” said Watts.

This piece is another in our Include College series of articles highlighting Georgia’s IPSE programs.