Learning about Disability Education

As part of a fall break Immersion, students traveled to Jacksonville to focus on disability awareness and education.

Rollins students meet at the Riverside Arts Market in downtown Jacksonville between volunteer activities. (Photo by Brianna Pearson) Rollins students meet at the Riverside Arts Market in downtown Jacksonville between volunteer activities. (Photo by Brianna Pearson)

As a summer camp counselor, psychology major Stephanie Jones ’17 discovered the joy of working with children with special needs.

In mid-October, as a facilitator with the Rollins College Immersion: Citizens Take Action program, she helped fellow service-minded students experience those rewards first hand.
During a five-day alternative fall break in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, 14 Immersion participants volunteered at the North Florida School of Special Education. The experience—titled (Connect)ability: Exploring Disability Awareness and Education—allowed Rollins students to interact with children and young adults ages 4 through early 20s.

“It was a really good learning experience because we got to see the philanthropy side behind a nonprofit in addition to the direct-service side,” says Jones, who is studying applied behavior analysis to provide treatment for children with autism. “I got to do what I love while gaining valuable experience for the job field.”

Each year, Rollins offers more than 20 trips through the Immersion program, which “immerses” participants in activities and projects off campus, based on need-areas identified by community agencies and the College. Rooted in Rollins’ mission to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership, the Immersion program explores the big challenges and questions that face communities in the 21st century.

Supporting, Observing, Connecting

Stepping off the bus from Winter Park Friday evening, students went straight to work at a large fundraising event for the school. The following day was spent at the University of North Florida, which has a transition program for college-aged students with intellectual disabilities.

After attending a Special Olympics event on Sunday, Monday was devoted to a day of service at the North Florida School. Some Rollins students assisted with PE classes; others performed crafts, conducted individual tutoring, and played instruments in music class.

Rollins students take a photo with the self portraits created by the students of the North Florida School of Special Education. (Photo by Brianna Pearson) Rollins students take a photo with the self portraits created by the students of the North Florida School of Special Education. (Photo by Brianna Pearson)

Music major Danielle Torres ’18 was particularly impressed with how the school’s vocational skills program makes dog treats and sells them to local pet stores. In addition, an on-site farm and culinary arts institute provide opportunities for young adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

Torres’ favorite part of the trip involved connecting with students through song.

“It was amazing to see that all of the students were able to experience and create music in their own unique way,” she says.

Sally Hazelip, executive director of the North Florida School, referred to Jones, Torres, and their colleagues as “a breath of fresh air.”

“I have never been more impressed with a group of students,” Hazelip says. “Their willingness to work with our students in a variety of settings was so appreciated. Their love and kindness was so evident.”