Beyond Academics gives students with intellectual disabilities more than a college degree it gives them a chance to live on their own terms.
Demario Chandler quickly flips channels, coming to rest on ESPN. Big men, clad only in garish shorts, grimace and grunt at one another. Punches fly as they grapple big, meaty arms swinging around necks, into ribs. Demario paces excitedly, a grin on his face.
The grin returns when he flips the channel again and catches the weather report. More snow might be on the way.
Minutes later, he ushers a fellow UNCG student into the apartment. They decide to go to the apartment's club house to relax. He closes the door of the apartment where he lives alone. Breath comes out in visible puffs. Christmas lights shine from balconies, jewels in the darkness. They walk companionably.
Demario, tell me about your trip to D.C. You went to the White House, right?
It was alright.
What did you do? the student prompts.
Talked about jobs.
In places, remnants of the weekend's snow crunch underfoot.
Was the White House what you expected?
There's much he doesn't say. The quiet UNCG senior deflects questions with a shrug. The trip was important. He was invited to DC to participate in job shadowing as part of the national Disability Mentoring Day. A workforce he'll soon be headed into.
Demario Chandler pauses for a moment during a basketball practice in the Greensboro
Demario came to UNCG in 2007 when Beyond Academics launched. The fledgling program sought to provide a rare opportunity to college-age students with intellectual disabilities the chance to go to college and learn to live on their own, just like their peers.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) ensures children with disabilities have access to a public education alongside their non-disabled peers, says Joan Johnson '75, executive director of Beyond Academics. The problem is, the entitlement to services ends at age 21.
As a result, the service system is unable to meet the needs of many who desire more.
These young adults want to be employed and they want to live independently," Joan says. It's a stark reality for the students and families who have invested many years in preparing for a future to seemingly reach a dead end.
The idea for Beyond Academics stemmed from a group of parents in Winston-Salem who wanted more for their children. One family attended a conference where they heard of students with disabilities attending a college in Maine. They were energized by the idea.
CenterPoint Human Services in Winston-Salem was part of the group that started gathering information about how to bring a program like that to North Carolina. Fran Sandridge, who currently works as the director of student life for Beyond Academics (BA), was the initial director who spearheaded the development of the program.
It was an out-of-the-box idea, Joan says.
UNCG seemed like the logical choice. UNCG is a campus known for embracing diversity and inclusion, Joan says.