April 17, 2018

Shelby County students with special needs soar in UM’s Falcon Flight Program

Thanks to a new collaboration between UM and Shelby County Schools, five students with special needs students have started an academic journey at UM that, a year ago, wouldn’t have been possible.

The collaborative program, called Falcon Flight, allows Shelby County students with learning disabilities to attend classes at UM and learn essential life and jobs skills that will allow them to continue their journey into adulthood after finishing high school.

Dr. Hollie Cost, UM professor and mayor of the city of Montevallo, has been a longtime champion of the project.

“While they are not students who would typically be enrolled in a university program, they are able to experience a variety of different aspects of university life. I’m confident that our university students will gain as much from having the Falcon Flight students on campus as Falcon Flight students will gain from their interactions with them,” said Cost.

To lead the program, Shelby County Schools recruited Shari Deason as director, along with job coach Tina Smith and student assistant Joy Howell. Deason spent months attending conferences and visiting similar programs at other universities to prepare for Falcon Flight.

“It’s really something beautiful,” said Deason. “For a lot of students with a significant disability, once they get to their 12th grade year, everybody else graduates and goes off to college, and they are often left behind. We’re so excited Montevallo has opened the doors for our kids.”

While at UM, the students will practice personal financial literacy, learn basic lessons in technology, participate in internships with local businesses around town and have the chance to live the lifestyle of a typical college student.

All Falcon Flight students will be allowed to return to the program until the age of 21, meaning about two years per student.

The goal is that these incremental lessons will give the students the tools they need to realize whatever big dreams they may have down the road. According to Deason, her students are interested in everything from art, to high end sneakers to turf management.

Deason said that although the students’ disabilities vary in severity and type, they all share a common pride in being able to call themselves true college students.