JMU Program Bridges Gap for Adult Students With Disabilities

Jun 3, 2019

JMU students, along with Turner Ashby and Central High School transition program students, take part in a tour of UREC on the JMU campus.
Credit Laura Desportes

A program that pairs young adults living with disabilities with undergraduate students at James Madison University has made a big difference in preparing both sets of students for life’s challenges. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.


Turner Ashby transition program student Constance Turner.
Credit Bridget Manley

CONSTANCE TURNER: So is this going to be on the radio?

REPORTER: It is gonna be on the radio.

TURNER: Oh tartar sauce!

For the last five years, young adult students in the transition programs at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater and Central High School in Woodstock have worked with students at JMU to develop life skills for adulthood.

Every Friday, the students - all of whom are living with disabilities - travel to the JMU campus to experience a variety of learning opportunities.

For the JMU students, the program helps those going into service related careers to understand the fully diverse world that they will be working with.

In return, the high school students get exposure to the college experience in a unique way, touring the JMU football stadium, taking exercise classes, eating in the dining halls, and participating with JMU students in activities.

TURNER: Hello, radio people, hello!

JMU students and transition program students take part in a ropes course.
Credit Laura Desportes

Constance Turner is a 20-year-old student at Turner Ashby High School. She is about to graduate from the Transition Program and attend Blue Ridge Community College. She loved making a workout video for people to play on YouTube at home.

TURNER: That video, oh man, that was good….The push ups, see? My muscles….

Watch the students' YouTube video, 'Exercise With Friends'

She says her favorite part of going to JMU was seeing the football field and locker rooms.

TURNER: Touring the football field, touring the weight room, where the football players go to workout with. In the locker room of course, when we were in the football locker room, I saw  their jerseys, and their helmets, and their shoulder pads. Man, that was a good day. And I saw the weight room, and I saw the really big heavy weights that they lift - whew, man! That was good.

The partnership helps these students learn practical skills, such as how to make a budget, write checks, and take a bus to get around, according to Dr. Laura Desportes, a professor in the College of Education at JMU.

Dr. Laura Desportes is a professor in the College of Education at JMU.
Credit James Madison University

LAURA DESPORTES: They work in terms of directly teaching the skills, and then we sort of give them a place to practice those skills in a natural environment. We are a community that they can access, that they should access because it’s full of young people. Just like the young people that they have there. JMU is a public institution, and JMU could benefit a lot from being more inclusive and more inviting to the public. And so this is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Dr. Nancy Barbour is Professor Emeritus at Kent State University, and is co-teaching the class with Dr. Desportes at JMU. She says the class has been integral in helping future teachers understand what true diversity in the classroom looks like.

Dr. Nancy Barbour is Professor Emeritus at Kent State University. She's co-teaching the class with Dr. Desportes at JMU.
Credit James Madison University

NANCY BARBOUR: I’m an early childhood faculty member, and I work with teachers who are preparing to be teachers in inclusive early childhood classrooms. Well, you know, that’s fine for me to understand this part of the beginning, but being part of this program I see the long range trajectory of what I’m preparing these teachers to do. It’s just been so rewarding, I can’t even say. I smile all day Friday as a result. That’s all there is to it.

Gina Troyer is a special education teacher at Turner Ashby High School.

Gina Troyer is a special education teacher at Turner Ashby High School.
Credit Turner Ashby High School

GINA TROYER: I just think the coolest thing for us is for our kids to be able to have a connection with JMU and to be able to access things. Like we go to to job site in Harrisonburg all the time, we drive right down 81 and the middle of campus, and so it’s really cool for the kids to say ‘oh, that’s the football field, we just went through the tunnel the other day’. There aren’t any other kids at school who can say that, other than the students in our class. We get to do some really cool stuff.

Turner Ashby transition program student M.J. Dandridge.
Credit Bridget Manley

M.J. DANDRIDGE: I love JMU, it was a good program, I learned a lot of stuff like cyberbullying, and how to drive safely, and to do a scavenger hunt around campus, it was a lot of stuff I hadn’t seen on campus, since I went to JMU and passed it on the way in Harrisonburg. I loved it.

Nineteen-year-old M.J. Dandridge is in the transition program at Turner Ashby High School.

DANDRIDGE: I loved the lunch there, I loved the friends, it was just a good friendship, everybody was nice, kind, friendly to everybody, no arguing, no nothing, it was just a perfect program for any kid to do.

No wonder their favorite day of the week is Friday.

Reporting for WMRA, I’m Bridget Manley.

TURNER: I heard it on the radio….