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College Bridge Program Helps Teens with Learning Disabilities Transition to Postsecondary

Jennifer (far left) and Sara (standing) work with students in small group settings
Mission Middle College Program Coordinators, Jennifer Jolliff (far left) and Sara Smith (standing) working with students in small group settings.



Recently, we caught up with Jennifer Jolliff and Sara Smith, Program Coordinators at Mission Middle College, CA, to talk about their college bridge program in the Santa Clara School District. This collaboration gives high school seniors who are not performing well academically a second chance at making successful transitions to college.

In this blog, Jennifer and Sara describe how students with learning disabilities feel about attending college and their approach to provide a new learning environment. They also offer some great recommended reading resources.

Believing Students with LD Will Succeed

By 11th grade, Caleb was withdrawn and almost voiceless. His self-esteem had hit rock bottom. Due to his low reading ability, he felt ridiculed, ashamed, and beyond academic assistance. Caleb’s anxiety level was in overdrive as he talked with us about taking college courses.  This young man was sensitive and smart, but lacked the transcripts and reading confidence to succeed.  Sadly, many battle-scarred students, like Caleb, skip the quest to college for fear of failure.

Students with learning disabilities often lack the reading comprehension skills to handle college courses. They may be labeled as having an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or a 504. They may not have been formally diagnosed with a reading disability, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, but are keenly aware that others have low expectations. They may believe that no one really believes they can succeed. Our task is to reverse this belief and provide a learning environment that wipes away this stigma.

About Mission Middle College Transition Program

Like many transition programs, our approach is to build a bridge to increase students’ confidence and give them alternative ways to learn.  First, we equip them with technology. We encourage good study habits and teach them about emotional intelligence. These students want and deserve mutual respect.

To improve reading comprehension, we provide access to quality educational resources like Bookshare for students who qualify. Caleb liked reading accessible books with text-to-speech. This multisensory environment (seeing and hearing the content) reinforced reading comprehension.

Next, we connect students with peer mentors and provide resources for them to explore about learning disabilities.  At the end of this article, we list reading recommendations to help parents.

Lastly, we set uniformly high expectations. Our learning environment at Mission Middle College applies cognitive-based theory with technology and instructional strategies that focus on reading comprehension. This combination helps the learner take ownership for their academic progress.

Caleb Richardson talks with Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
Caleb Richardson talks with Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

When we first met Caleb, he was fearful and unprepared. He responded favorably to using technology and accessible books. His reading comprehension improved. His barriers broke down and he believed he could succeed. His hard work paid off! Today, he attends East Texas Access University for religious studies. This is the type of success we want for all learners.

Recommended Reading Resources From Jennifer and Sara:

Additional Resources:

mission students
Middle Mission College students demonstrate reading on their computers.

P.S. Read this blog about Michael Yudin’s visit to Mission Middle College. Mr. Yudin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Many thanks to Jennifer Jolliff, Sara Smith and Caleb Richardson, for sharing this information and update.

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