The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

August 22, 2013

Pella student able to find his special niche

John and Teresa Rietveld knew autism wasn’t going to hold back their son, Lucas, after high school. They just didn’t know what his future held in society as a new high school grad.

A specialized University of Iowa program for students with disabilities was just the answer. Born prematurely and later diagnosed with Autism, Lucas thrived in the local schools in Pella and is much loved by his classmates, teachers and staff. As a 2013 graduate, he’s excited to start a new life chapter and adventure just like the rest of his classmates through a program at University of Iowa called REACH.

The program is perfect for Lucas, according to his family. The REACH program, standing for Realizing Educational and Career Hopes, is a two-year program at the school that allows students with learning disabilities to learn applicable life skills while still being immersed in the culture of the school. Lucas will live in the dorms and go to classes, but his classes will be centered around curriculum that will teach him how to live life on his own.

“The courses teach applicable life skills. I feel the whole person is integrated, it’s social and it’s educational,” Teresa commented.

Overall, only 50 students can be enrolled in the program at a time and acceptance is very competitive. The application process was intricate and not only the Rietvelds but Lucas’ teacher, Lisa Witzenburg, spent a lot of time working on the application process.

“I felt like I was helping him apply for an Ivy League School!” Teresa commented.

After a completed application and lengthy interviews with both Lucas and his parents, Lucas was accepted into the program. He met his roommate, who is also a REACH student.

The program is a certificate program as opposed to an earned degree, but the program is built toward teaching students, like Lucas, skills that will help them thrive in society. Lucas will be enrolled in classes like Life Skills, Computers and Technology and Money Management. He will have the opportunity to learn in a small group environment with personal advising and a very hands-on approach.

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