Texas A&M’s Aggie ACHIEVE program, a four-year postsecondary education program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities, will welcome 12 students in the fall to begin their own college experiences with new precautionary measures related to COVID-19.
The Aggie ACHIEVE program has been hard at work to make sure students are still receiving the academic and social skills that the program promises. By introducing sanitation and cleaning techniques and ways to identify COVID-19, the program and it’s staff are doing what they can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the students and those around them.
Program director Olivia Hester said despite the unforeseen challenges of the spring semester, all of the Aggie ACHIEVE students saw success and she expects this to continue into the fall.
“I am extremely proud of how the Aggie ACHIEVE students adapted to the change this past semester and quickly learned how to access the college classroom virtually,” Hester said. “Since COVID-19, we have seen a huge improvement in our students’ technology skills.”
Aggie ACHIEVE sophomore Alexis Villarreal’s outlook for the fall semester is positive and she said she has been preparing for any highs and lows she may experience while attending classes online and socializing with other students and mentors.
“I think this semester will be fine,” Villarreal said. “I have been practicing good sanitation habits. My only concern is that I may not see everyone as often as I used to.”
Villarreal said the quick turnaround of last semester introduced her to new skills she might not have mastered otherwise, and said she was grateful for the program helping her navigate through problems she never predicted.
“I have gotten better at my computer skills, independent living skills and problem solving,” Villarreal said. “The ACHIEVE program has given me direction and tools for success.”
Each ACHIEVE student has their own peer mentor, known as their Aggie ACHIEVEMate. Aggie ACHIEVEMate president and interdisciplinary studies junior Anna Fedewa said that although meetings and get-togethers may look different, the relationships between students and their mentors are more important than ever.
“At the core of our organization is the belief that inclusion and friendship has the power to change lives and experiences,” Fedewa said. “While COVID-19 will undoubtedly change what our programming looks like, I think it actually has the power to strengthen the relationships that our members have with each other as we learn to lean on each other and rely on the power of friendship during these times.”
With campus functioning differently than what the students might be used to, Hester said move-in for the Aggie ACHIEVE students has been moved to the week of Aug. 9 in order to help both new and returning students adjust to the necessary guidelines and precautions related to COVID-19.
“That will give us time to work with students on social distancing, cleaning routines and safely getting around campus such as riding the bus, going to the dining hall and attending class,” Hester said. “Our parents have been really proactive this summer in teaching self-monitoring techniques and teaching their young adults the symptoms associated with COVID-19.”
With the ACHIEVE’s Open Houses no longer being held in-person, the program’s recruitment process for prospective students and their families has been affected. Hester said this is a setback she believes they will overcome.
“We typically hold an Open House about once a month,” Hester said. “It’s a great way for applicants and their families to get to meet some of our Aggie ACHIEVE students, program staff and visit campus. However, this fall, prospective students and their families can visit our website and watch one of our recorded Open Houses. We plan to also have at least one live virtual Open House this fall.”
Despite all of the new precautions and requirements to remain aware of, Villarreal said none of this has intimidated her, as it has only encouraged her to want to get back to Aggieland and begin a fresh experience.
“I look forward to my new classes, working in a new job, making new friends and seeing my old friends,” Villarreal said. “I am excited to share an apartment with my dear friend without a mentor.”