SRU’s Rock Life program to offer a Living-Learning Community this fall

Watson Hall at Night

Beginning next fall, the first floor of Watson Hall will house Slippery Rock University’s Rock Life Living-Learning Community for postsecondary education students at SRU with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Jan. 26, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's Rock Life program, which provides students with intellectual or developmental disabilities a path to competitive employment and lifelong wellness, will expand in fall 2018 to allow students to participate in a Living-Learning Community.

Kleemook Profile Photo

   KLEEMOOK

"The Rock Life LLC will provide a safer environment that is fully inclusive and easier to handle for students who are challenged in various ways," said Robert Arnhold, professor of physical and health education and director of the Rock Life program. "This gives people a chance, with the proper support that they need, to live independently and be successful."

According to Arnhold, only about 250 institutions in the country have programs similar to Rock Life, where students with intellectual or development disabilities can take classes without earning credit and experience college life at a less rigorous pace. Although participants are not working toward a degree, they are obtaining job skills and progressing to independent living. After two years, they receive a certificate or, if they show they are capable, enroll in a degree program.

"Some of the students may be very intelligent and able to handle the academic work, but socially they're awkward due to the disability they have," said Arnhold. "The residential component is sometimes difficult to match with a traditional undergraduate student who doesn't understand the student and their behaviors."

That's where the LLC component comes in. Approximately 40 percent of all residential students at SRU live in an LLC, which provide students with an out-of-class learning experience by grouping them in their residence halls based on academic goals or common interests. Students in LLCs, such as liberal arts or military/emergency services, live on the same floors as classmates in their major or area of interest, are provided access to workspaces and other resources, and must commit to attending programs related their LLC.

Rather than have students from Rock Life live with each other as roommates, they will be matched with a traditional undergraduate SRU student who opts into the Rock Life LLC and is able to provide support as a student majoring in human services-related fields such as special education, adapted physical activity and recreational therapy.

Baynham profile photo

   BAYNHAM

"The students living there, who aren't part of the Rock Life program, are getting a practical experience of working with people with disabilities during their college career," said Justin Kleemook, associate director or residence life. "The people in the Rock Life program are finding proper support and channels to help them succeed. This partnership creates a safe environmental residence hall space with also the practical side with students who want to work with that population."

Rock Life students will not be required to live in the Rock Life LLC, but those who join will live in the first floor of Watson Hall, the same residence hall as the Education and Honors LLCs.

"It's good for them because they have a chance to live with a roommate without disabilities," said Zack Baynham, a senior athletic training major from Finleyville, who will be the community assistant assigned to the Rock Life LLC next fall. "They get that college experience that everyone is looking for, but it's also important to know that I'm on the floor and I can help them work through the situations that they might not know how to handle."

Baynham, currently a CA in Building B, has worked one-on-one with a student from the Rock Life program this semester. Baynham, who plans to pursue his master's degree in adapted physical activity at SRU next year, sees the importance of supporting students with disabilities who are used to having one-on-one interactions in high school with a teaching assistant.

"The people on the floor are going to be very welcoming; it's going to be very integrated," said Baynham, who will also plan programming for the Rock Life LLC to break down social barriers and enable communication among the students in the residence hall. "Making conversations may be hard and that's what keeps them out of things like joining student organizations."

"You can't just throw someone with a disability into an environment and say, 'OK, you're here, you can do this,'" said Mary Holmes, a graduate student in adapted physical activity from Springdale, who is a Rock Life coordinator. "They need the support to be successful and accomplish the goals they set for themselves. This program really proves that they are capable with the right support."

To learn more about the Rock Life program, visit: http://www.srurocklife.org/. To learn more about SRU's LLCs, visit: http://www.sru.edu/life-at-sru/housing/living-learning-communities.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu