So, after being invited to several different recruitment events from Chloe's top three schools, we decided to make another trip to Nashville and take a closer look at Chloe's #1 choice: Vanderbilt University.
We asked Chloe's grandma to tag along and even arranged a meeting with Tammy Day, the director of the next steps program at Vandy. Grandma was able to ask questions about on campus housing and safety, which were her primary concerns.
The PreVU event far exceeded any expectations I had...
Before the event commenced, representatives from departments within the college lined the walls and things like campus safety, residential housing, the on campus fitness center, campus dining and study abroad options were all things one could learn more about. Chloe of course made a bee line for the global education display and promptly inquired about the volcano class...in Brazil. Let's just say we now have ALL the brochures on that topic ;)
After an introduction from one of the deans, financial aid and the application process were addressed. As a parent navigating the task of building a college-prep life for my special needs child I feel alone most of the time, but I do read and research a lot. The truth is, Chloe's desire to attend college really isn't so different than anyone else's. I made the decision early on that we were going to mirror the typical curriculum and have her diploma as close to everyone else's as possible, just on her level. No, her transcript will not show algebra, geometry or calculus, but it will have 3 credits of math, for example. I do realize that the school is supposed to oversee this, but another opinion never hurts, right? Needless to say there were a number of courses Chloe can, did and will complete that are the same content, modified for her learning level. For example in junior English she read the same novels, but used speech to text to complete her written assignments. The depth of the questions was also different. Recall of facts and plots were emphasized rather than symbolism. It was a very appropriate class for her and though she struggled -- she learned so very much!
I mention these situations because along this journey I've been asked by so many people what I mean when I say "college-bound special needs student". It's unconventional now, but I certainly hope it becomes just as common and reachable of a goal as it is for everyone else. Chloe doesn't have an average IQ, a grade level reading score or math skills. What she does have is passion for learning and tenacity that drives her to achieve whatever goal she sets for herself. I've seen it time and again in both athletics and academics as well as everyday life. I think many more high school students of all abilities probably would have the same goal if they were just presented with the option. At this point, I would urge parents to find out because a college experience is within reach. I promise.
But, I digress. The application process begins with something called early decision. Basically, it means that if you get your application in early a decision will be made in January rather than in April or May. (For those of us who would most likely be relocating from Chicago - we LOVE early decision). It also means that recommendation letters, the personal statement and all the documentation may have to be obtained before the close of junior year or during the summer rather than during fall of senior year.
Typical applicants are asked to show their academic record as well as any extracurricular activities they are involved in and believe me when I mention here that extracurriculars are EXTREMELY important in the process. While Chloe has experience in multiple athletics, she has also volunteered in her spare time . I realize there are so many families already juggling work and medical appointments and it may seem impossible but it's not. (If I can pull it off anyone can). Needless to say, this part of the day was very interesting to me because I wanted to make sure that I had covered all the bases in making Chloe's life and application well-rounded and as it turns out, I am proud to say that I met the criteria quite well.
Next up was financial aid and that's of course a concern for any college-bound parent. The program Chloe applied to has different fees involved than a typical student, but federal financial aid and stipends through vocational rehabilitation may be options for us. My advice about the situation is to ask a lot of questions and start the search for scholarships early. Yes, I said scholarships. There are many organizations that award funds to students of all abilities -- you just have to look for them. (Or not because this is a blog post I plan to write in the future and I like to think I'm fairly comprehensive in my research).
Yeah, so enough of that -- lets talk LUNCH baby!!
Dining at Vanderbilt is wonderful! Can parents get meal plans? No, really, can we?? Grandma had the salmon and I tried out the vegan option (uh huh). Chloe, ever the gourmet, had a burger. And green beans, she wants me to include that so everyone reading this knows that she eats her veggies ;)
We toured the campus and met the dorm rooms, the buildings -- among them the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center -- and Chloe was able to take it all in. During the tour, I asked the tour guide if he knew about the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and all they do. He didn't, but I seized the opportunity to educate the families with us about their programming as well as Williams Syndrome. The tour guide, a current Vanderbilt student, said he didn't really realize how inclusive his campus was becoming and he was so glad to know that and meet Chloe. She of course hugged him and everyone clapped. It was a sweet moment and just goes to show the culture of acceptance alive and well on the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville.
When we arrived back at our hotel, Chloe looked at me and said that more than ever she'd like to attend Vandy. Actually her exact words were "It would be an honor mom, I would be so proud to be a Vanderbilt student." I hugged her and yeah, I cried. I'm so proud to be her mother and so excited that we decided to attend a recruitment event. It reinforced for me just how much Chloe wants to go to college and that I'm actually a little more prepared than I thought I was. Whew!