Most students are trying to keep their heads above water at Auburn University by keeping up with homework and tests from their couches. One group of students has additional challenges and classes to work on remotely, however — the EAGLES students.
The EAGLES program at Auburn University was established as a way for students and young adults with special needs to have an inclusive home and environment in college.
EAGLES students take classes at Auburn just as any student would, though they do have some additional opportunities and classes that help them succeed.
Many of the students live on campus with peer mentors, though others will soon be able to move off-campus. All students now, however, are back home or living with relatives as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“We collect pre- and post-data on our students so we shall see if there has been an adverse impact on learning, but I think our students are resilient and understand that this time, while not ideal, is to protect themselves and others,” said Betty Patten, director of EAGLES and assistant clinical professor in the department of Special Education, Rehabilitation and Counseling at Auburn University.
“One goal of the program is to help our students learn how their actions and contributions affect others and that this world is about so much more than “me, myself, and I.” Therefore, I think this experience is a real life example of how together we can all work to help one another.”
EAGLES classes include courses such as Transition to Independent Living, Positive Choices and Career Preparation, all of which the program is conducting remotely. Each Monday the students get to see one another, talk and check in via a Zoom meeting.
“Program staff reviewed each component of the program and created a contingency plan that consisted of implementing services to students that traditionally occur on campus in a distance format,” Patten said. “Key components of transitioning the program to remote instruction included surveying if students had reliable internet connection in their homes prior to disseminating plans.”
The students are encouraged to continue working on skills they would have been developing at school, such as doing laundry, making dinner for their families, cleaning up and making their beds.
“The students have shared how excited they are to show their parents they have learned a lot and want to show them they can live on their own one day,” Patten said. “Students submit video or photographic evidence of tasks they are completing and also share a caption with the staff if they wish for us to share it on social media.”
The students have classes with other university students as well, such as performance yoga and public speaking. This means they check in with university professors and complete assignments for them as well.
Patten said that professors have praised the EAGLES students for their technology use.
Jessica Milton, an EAGLES instructor, encouraged students during the Monday morning Zoom meeting to stay on top of their deadlines and assignments. Each student was encouraged to bring their planner to the meeting as well.
Each student checked in with each other, Milton and Patten, and presented peer mentors during the Zoom meeting. They shared what they have been working on for homework, how they are doing and what they will have coming up.
In addition to the Monday Zoom meetings, the EAGLES students meet up with peer mentors by Zoom on Tuesday for academic support. The students have classes throughout the week and journal their experiences on Fridays as well, Patten said.
A major part of the EAGLES program is encouraging students to be able to support themselves independently one day. Students were training on jobs or volunteering before remote instruction took place.
Students are still doing what they can, even from home, Patten said.
“While students who held campus jobs are unable to attend work, each student will be paid the reminder of the semester and has been assigned tasks that will help the student grow in that area,” she said. “For example, Kyle and Quin were training to become Special Olympics track and field coaches.
“Since they can no longer attend practices where they implement their lesson plans developed with their job coaches, they are enrolled in online CPR and first aid classes to gain certification in these areas in place of coaching, since those certifications are required to become a certified coach. The job coaches meet with their EAGLES weekly to help them with their modules.”
This week, all students will be cooking a meal for their parents and family.
Elizabeth Preston lives in her apartment over the family’s garage. This means she gets to practice her independent living skills.
“I’ve been feeding the dogs without my parents saying anything about it,” she shared during the Monday morning Zoom meeting.
Although she sees her family during the day, she makes her own breakfast in the morning, does her own laundry and makes her own shopping lists.
Preston said she likes living on her own because it provides a quiet environment for her to get her homework done. The downside is that she does get lonely, she said.
“I wanna say the hardest thing would be, ever since I’ve been home, not seeing friends, hanging out with friends,” she said.
When she is in Auburn, Preston spends time at Storybook Farm, which is something she misses, she said.
Another EAGLES student, Sean Patrick Teachworth is preparing a speech this week for public speaking and is working hard to keep up with what he has due.
His speech, which he will record and turn into his professor, will be based on ‘Why Drew Brees is the best quarterback of all time.’
“That’s something that I think everyone could learn from Sean Patrick,” Patten praised him during the Zoom. “He is really looking at due dates and he is getting things done ahead of time so he can relax at the end of the week instead of being stressed and having to submit everything at the end of the week. So we really appreciate that backwards planning and that skill.”
Although he is doing well with his deadlines, Teachworth said he finds it difficult to do everything remotely, rather than in-person.
“It’s also hard getting up and thinking I have to go to class, but I’m just stuck in my room bored,” he said.
Quin Thomas also is in public speaking and will be preparing a speech on ‘Why Track and Field should be a mainstream sport.’ He is staying in Florida right now with his grandparents.
His grandmother now takes care of some of his independent living skills, like the laundry, but he still has things to practice.
“I still make my bed in the morning, I make sure to clean up after myself,” Thomas said. “I would do the laundry but my grandma loves doing the laundry.”
Teachworth said he’s just used to the independent skills now.
“Even though I’ve left Auburn, (the independent learning skills are) just something, it got into me, I have to do it now,” he said. “It just stuck with me.”
Thomas said the most difficult part of going remote has been the mental aspects. He doesn’t have sports to watch, can’t walk a room over to talk to his roommates and can’t see his friends.
Many of the EAGLES students have autoimmune deficiencies so self- distancing and quarantines are especially important, Patten said. They continue to meet by Zoom, learn and grow, however.
“Before I got in the program, I was really unmotivated and unhappy because I was in Wisconsin and I just didn’t want to be there anymore,” Thomas said. “And I was very unmotivated. So I was just not in a very good place. Then, just being able to go to Auburn … I grew up an Auburn fan, so it’s just really changed my life.
“I’m a person where it can sometimes be hard to tell when I’m grateful. But I’m really grateful to Dr. Patten and the people that made the decision to bring me into the program.”