West Windsor, N.J. – The power and promise of the DREAM (Developing Real Expectations for Achieving Mastery) program at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) were very much on display as MCCC’s DREAM students took on leadership roles at the “Dare to Dream Student Leadership Conference,” sponsored by The New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
The annual regional event, which was held at the MCCC Conference Center April 29, has a critical objective: to highlight strategies and share information to prepare high school students with disabilities for college and career readiness. Students in the DREAM program, which is now in its 11th year, actively participate in the conference.
Inspirational words set the tone from the conference’s opening moments. MCCC DREAM student Kristen Robinson stood before a packed auditorium as she spoke about the opportunities the program has provided her and her fellow students – a college experience supplemented with peer mentors, tutoring, and accommodations for the classroom, as well as career exploration, confidence building activities and skills in resume writing.
Indeed, presenting a speech to such large crowd might intimidate any student, but Robinson did not seem fazed. Currently enrolled in a Public Speaking course with faculty member Lorraine Stone, she said, “This class has taught me that I can write a speech and present it. It has helped to build my confidence and self-esteem.”
An avid baker, Robinson’s goal is to earn her degree in Culinary Arts. “One day I would love to bake for a living and have my own business. Completing college will show that I am a hard-worker and can get through anything,” she said, crediting her supportive family with keeping her grounded.
“My advice to all new students going to college is to be yourself and don’t take no for an answer. Keep fighting for your dreams,” Robinson said.
Also participating in the opening session was guest speaker LeDerick Horne, who was labeled impaired as a child, and now serves as an entertaining and expressive advocate for people with disabilities.
The day continued with attendees dividing up for breakout sessions. MCCC’s DREAM students led a session entitled “Super Heroes: Unleashing Your Super Powers!” Each of the six presenters selected a favorite super hero to illustrate their own strengths and then encouraged audience members to consider their own strengths and how to use them not only in school but in everyday life.
Presenter Dan Woods, a Liberal Arts student, shared some of the “super powers” he has developed in the DREAM program: leadership skills as president of MCCC’s Meet-ia Club and coaching abilities as an assistant with the college’s Unified Sports Program. Other presenters focused on their friendly personalities, their good memories, and their listening skills.
Attendees then had the opportunity to reflect on and list their own special skills and share them with the group. At the conclusion of the workshop, each speaker provided information about the DREAM application process and college life at Mercer.
DREAM Program Director Sue Onaitis gives her students high marks all around. “They did a great job, working with minimal guidance from the staff. It was gratifying to see them embrace such a big role in the conference. MCCC’s commitment to inclusivity empowers them to grow as students and as people.”
MCCC DREAM Program
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