Partnership adds life skills class for students on autism spectrum

TWU and Transition Academy student standing with backpack standing in front of the TWU fountain

Nov. 16, 2023 – DENTON – Jaret Jaklewicz’s morning typically begins with a class in Pioneer Hall at Texas Woman’s University. Afterward, he checks in on an online class. Around lunchtime, he walks across the Denton campus to the Student Union to grab a bite at Chick-fil-A. 

Jacklewicz is just another TWU student going about his day. As much as he blends into the fabric of campus life, there is something a little different that sets him apart from other students. 

The class he is taking isn’t for a degree. Instead, it’s a one-hour life skills class that is teaching him how to succeed in everyday life. His class focuses on finance, vocation, health and wellness and social relationships. Recently, he was learning about kitchen skills and knife safety.

Jacklewicz, who is on the autism spectrum, is part of a new partnership between Texas Woman’s and the 29 Acres Transition Academy. He is one of 24 academy students who are on the TWU campus this fall as non-degree seeking students. 

“The finance class is one I learned the most from,” Jacklewicz said. “I learned a lot of stuff I hadn’t known before like how to pay bills. I’m learning the steps and how to practice examples. Overall, these are useful things that I’ll be able to remember.”

TWU and Transition Academy student sits at desk in Pioneer Hall in front of windows

The first 29 Acres Transition Academy class started in 2018 to help fill the need of young adults with neurodiversity who age out of the public school system. The Transition Academy offers transitional housing, independent living and career readiness skills through a curriculum and work experience for adults 18 to 30 years old, who are mid to high functioning on the autism spectrum. 

Post Covid, Transition Academy administrators started looking for classroom space for their academy students. But they also wanted a little bit more. 

“We wanted a sense of community,” Director of Transition Academy Jenna Curry said. “We wanted the experience of college for our clients. Some of them have taken college classes before and for some of them, this will be their only college experience. We wanted them to have that true college experience: the first week of school, going to the athletics events and all the social aspects of college.”

It took more than a year and collaboration among many different departments, but the academy curriculum, made up of four life skills sections taken once per semester for four semesters, is now being offered through TWU. The academy enrolls clients as TWU students and registers them for class. Armed with a student ID, Jacklewicz can buy lunch, check out books at the library or work out at the Fitness and Recreation Center, just like any other TWU student.

 “I like just walking across the campus and soaking it in,” Jacklewicz said. “It’s my home campus now.”

Some academy students, Jacklewicz included, already have college degrees. The 24 year old has a bachelor’s degree from Angelo State University and is currently working on an online Geospatial Information Science (GIS) certificate at Collin College. 

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School isn’t the issue for many academy clients. 

“I needed a little boost into adulthood,” Jacklewicz said. “I needed the motivation to be independent. It was there, I wanted to be independent but the bridge wasn’t there. It would be hard for me to do chores and take care of little things like hygiene, cleaning my room.”

Jacklewicz says there was an adjustment period for him, especially after living that traditional college student life. 

“In the long run, I definitely need it.” Jacklewicz said. “And, I’m starting to see how I take advantage of the benefits and prepare myself for a better future than I would have had without it.”

Jacklewicz is thinking about an internship when he graduates and whether to stay in Denton or move back to Abilene. Curry says that 83 percent of their academy clients go on to live independently of their parents and are employed. 

And it’s not just the Transition Academy students who are benefiting. In addition to the collegial interactions that the academy students have with university students, there is also Project Nexus. Through Project Nexus, a federal grant that kinesiology professor Suzanna Dillon, PhD, and the School of Health Promotion and Kinesiology received, speech-language pathology and adapted physical education graduate students work with 29 Acres and academy clients. 

The graduate students receive practicum hours and 29 Acres and academy clients attend social skills groups and physical education programming. But most importantly, it’s peers talking to other peers. And, hopefully, learning from each other. 

Jacklewicz is looking forward to attending basketball games and gymnastics meets. He wants to take in a theater performance and try more of the food at the Student Union. 

“It all has that feel of belonging,” Jacklewicz said. “I feel like I’m part of it.”

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Amy Ruggini
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Page last updated 11:38 AM, May 30, 2024