Mission Statement for Conquer College with LD/ADD
Students with learning disabilities represent the fastest growing minority on college campuses today. Unfortunately, less academic support in college, combined with the need for greater independence, frequently results in frustration for students who had previously succeeded in school. Sadly, failure for these students further damages their already fragile sense of self-esteem. With adequate preparation, however, failure needn’t happen.
The mission of Conquer College with LD/ADD is to serve as a complete online resource for post-secondary transition: a place where parents and students can turn to find the latest news and learn how to prepare for college’s unique challenges prior to setting foot on campus. In other words, Conquer College takes a proactive approach, feeling it’s easier to prevent a train wreck than clean up and pay for the damages.
Assuming normal intelligence and motivation, many students with learning disabilities can go on to graduate college successfully. The theories behind Conquer College with LD/ADD are based upon Joan Azarva’s personal and professional experiences in over 3+ decades, as well as educational best-practices.
About Joan Azarva:
Helping Special Education Students Achieve College Success
This is the story of how I took lemons (my frustrations) and made lemonade (a gratifying new career) to help improve the extremely low post-secondary success rate of students with disabilities.
From 1993 to 2006, I served as the sole Learning Specialist at a highly-regarded community college in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Can you imagine being the only Learning Specialist (and part-time at that) in a college of over 14,000 students?
Community colleges, with their open-admission policies, developmental classes, relatively low tuition rates, and wide assortment of degreed and vocational programs are magnets for students with learning disabilities—especially at a time when it is more expected than ever for this cohort to attend college. Now, at a time when many families are financially squeezed, community colleges look more attractive than ever to parents.
Even in good economic times, however, many students in Special Education choose to attend community college. Low (or no) SAT/ACT scores, poor high school records, and/or lack of prerequisites often leave these students with no other options. Students with learning disabilities are often the victims of watered-down requirements in high school. Furthermore, many of these teens are not ready to leave the safety of their homes, where well-meaning parents “assist” by reminding them of assignments, due dates, medication times, etc., to forestall failure.
Community colleges, however, welcome all students, regardless of academic records–as long as they are high school graduates or have their GED. It’s no surprise then that students with disabilities perceive community college as the ideal place to wipe the slate clean and begin anew.
On the surface, community college does appear to be the perfect solution for students with disabilities wishing to test the college waters as they learn to become “students”. At least, that’s the common perception. What parents fail to realize, however, is that most community colleges offer little in the way of specialized academic support—the very support that allowed students to succeed in high school.
To make matters worse, the onset of college marks the disappearance of the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, shifting the onus of responsibility from instructors and parents to the students themselves. As passive recipients in high school, many students struggle with this transition to self-advocacy. The combination of poor academic preparation with passivity, in an environment with different rules, a quicker pace, and none of the support that kept them afloat in high school, can prove disastrous. It’s no wonder the postsecondary success rate of students with learning disabilities is dreadful.
As parents, we know that, despite learning differences, many of our kids are indeed bright. Is it fair for our system to deny capable students the same shot at higher education as their non-disabled peers? How do we rationalize excluding smart teens, often creative, “outside the box” thinkers, from the post-secondary system? Surely, as parents, we can’t… and we shouldn’t.
When I was first hired as a college Learning Specialist in 1993, there were either fewer students with LD attempting college or fewer disclosing. As a result, I saw incoming freshmen three times a week for hourly appointments. I witnessed tentative students transform into confident, metacognitive learners. It wasn’t unusual for them to make Phi Theta Kappa (the national Honor Society for community colleges) or transfer to four-year colleges, sometimes with scholarships.
By 2000, however, things had begun to change–and by 2006, there were so many students disclosing and requesting tutoring, advising, study skills, etc., I could see students only once in two weeks–not nearly enough to support them through the rigors of their first year. As a result, I witnessed massive failure among motivated students. How do I know these students were motivated? Well, these were the students pleading for regular appointments!
Despite the fact that I was collecting a paycheck, the satisfaction was gone. That led to some serious introspection, and in December 2006, I resigned– a difficult decision because I enjoyed my students and once loved my job. Nevertheless, I felt I could make a greater impact towards post-secondary success by proactively teaching strategies in high school, rather than attempting to resurrect students once they crossed the college threshold and were in an unfamiliar, daunting system.
In 2007, I wrote Conquer College with LD/ADD, a comprehensive course specifically for high school students and their parents that covers what to do in high school to prepare for college, differences between the high school and college systems, how to conduct a probing college search, the application process, the admissions and selection process that ensures best fit, and finally, skills and strategies that result in retention.
When Conquer College debuted in 2008, I considered it an unqualified success upon receiving a heartfelt standing ovation from parents and students on the last day of class. In 34 years of teaching, I had never received such a reaction. That confirmed I had uncovered a need that up until now had gone unmet.
Since then, I have taught my course to small groups locally, online, or via phone, with handouts e-mailed in advance. I have also taught it privately, tailoring the course to particular students’ needs.
Presently, I have a thriving online list serve for parents of high school students that helps ease the anxiety of post-secondary transition. I have forged relationships with subscribers from all over the world by personally answering all the questions I receive. My latest accomplishment is this blog, which was just a vision when I first began.
At a time when many of my peers are slowing down, I am enjoying exciting new challenges. To quote one of my favorite movies, “If you build it, they will come”. I never anticipated hearing such inspirational success stories, nor having the opportunity to connect with professionals that up until now I had known of from books.
All that is good. But nothing beats the satisfaction of playing a role in changing young people’s lives by teaching them how to conquer college. There is no feeling quite like it.
After earning my Ms.ED in Reading from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. degree in Education from Stony Brook University, I’ve amassed over three decades of experience working with students who learn differently. You can read more about me at JOAN AZARVA. Please see “VIEW FULL PROFILE”.