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Life altering

Student with disabilities thrives when her family moves to Massachusetts from Florida for special BSU program
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

Looking at her today, it doesn’t seem possible that going to college was once an uncertainty for Gina Anderson.

High school seniors often don’t think twice about continuing their education after graduating, but Gina had some perceived limitations that almost diverted her from doing so.

She is not only deaf in one ear, but also has intellectual disabilities that require medication.

“After Gina graduated from high school, she said she wanted to go to college. I thought, why shouldn’t I let her go?” said her mother, Sarah Anderson.   

Growing up in Florida, Gina was educated mostly in self- contained classrooms where she participated in special education programs. When she announced her desire to further her education, her mother did some research and discovered BSU’s Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (ICEI) program, a postsecondary program for young adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Students share the same experiences as their college-aged peers in academics, socialization, career development and independent living. Peer mentors are also in place to help ICEI students whenever necessary.

Despite the fact that BSU was more than 1,000 miles away, Gina’s mother’s interest was piqued and the pair visited campus to learn more about the program.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but after my interview, I thought this is really cool, it’s a real college, and I knew I wanted to go,” Gina said. 

To fulfill Gina’s college dream, her mother moved the family, including younger sister Elizabeth, 17, to Massachusetts. Sarah Anderson found work as a special education coordinator in the Quincy public schools, and Gina began her BSU journey.

For two years Gina has enrolled in classes, including American history, western civilization and anthropology, and this year she opted to live in a residence hall, where she shares a room with another student. Gina is one of the first ICEI students who have chosen to live on campus.

“I don’t feel like a student with a disability – I really don’t. I know I am part of the ICEI program, but I don’t see it as a program; I am an actual student,” she said.

Much like many BSU students living away from home for the first time, Gina is learning how to do laundry, clean her room and is developing time-management skills.

“She has gotten so much more independent, more mature and is better able to advocate for herself,” said Kate Jesson, Gina’s ICEI educational coach. “She’s doing amazing.”

It was previously unthinkable that Gina would ever be capable of using public transportation by herself, but that is exactly what she learned to do last fall, and she often travels on a MBTA commuter train from Bridgewater to Quincy to visit her mother at work.

“This is helping give her the last push over the hump of things that I can’t teach her at home as a mom. Through ICEI, Gina is able to have these experiences and get ready for what’s next,” her mother said. “This is good practice so she can later live on her own.”

After completing the program, Gina plans to embark on a career as a paraprofessional, specifically with nonverbal students, a group of whom she worked with last summer during an internship at a special education preschool. “I feel a special connection to them; I see myself in them when I was little,” Gina said.

Moving from Florida to Massachusetts to participate in BSU’s ICEI program has proven to be a positive, life-altering decision.

“We changed our whole lives so Gina could come here and get this experience because I knew what it would do,” her mother said. “People move for their jobs all the time. We moved so Gina could go to school, and now she will be working. The ICEI program has given her the independence piece. She has learned skills with natural supports to help her figure things out.”

After mentoring Gina, Ms. Jesson is confident she will continue to achieve any goal she sets for herself. “Gina really is the shining example of what this program has to offer when you take advantage of it,” Ms. Jesson said.

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