Lions Connected, a Southeastern Louisiana University Department of Teaching and Learning program that provides personalized, post-secondary educational experiences for individuals with intellectual disabilities, has received national recognition.

A comprehensive transition and post-secondary program approved by the US Department of Education, Lions Connected was named the Exemplary Program for Vocational Training and Transition from the American Council on Rural Special Education (ACRES).

Gerlinde Beckers, program coordinator and associate professor of education at Southeastern, said Lions Connected works closely with on-campus inclusive vocational opportunities, community partnerships, parents and college-age peer mentors. Socialization with typical peers, independent living and self-advocacy, career development and experience, knowledge, personal health, skills and enrichment are some specific goals with the ultimate goal to increase the quality of life for students through a college experience, she added.

“Lions Connected serves five parishes in southeast Louisiana, four of which meet rural population indicators,” said Beckers. “The program aims to address students from high poverty, rural parishes with limited resources and opportunities. I am thrilled Lions Connected received this award. So many people at Southeastern have worked very hard for Lions Connected to become a program worthy of being considered exemplary.”

Southeastern middle school special education / social studies major Emma Beckers has been working with Lions Connected since she was a high school student.

“I have been involved with Lions Connected since its first year through high school service learning. It only seemed natural for me to become a peer mentor when I started at Southeastern last fall,” she said. “Being involved with Lions Connected is like having a very diverse second family, where we all belong and help each other succeed.”

Now in its third year, Lions Connected is certified by the Department of Education and must meet student academic progress goals set according to the federal standards in the areas of class attendance, class participation, assignment completion, and life skills curriculum.

Theresa Danos, mother of Lions Connected charter member Adam Danos, said her son completed the program and has now moved on to employment.

“Adam is on the autism spectrum and although he functions at a very high level, he would not have been successful attending a traditional college program. Adam really expressed a desire to attend college, and the program provided him with this avenue. We are thrilled!”

Danos added that the inclusive vocational opportunity is a vital part of the program.
“Having the students leave with job skills and experience will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “So many individuals with learning issues end up unemployed, and we are so happy to support a program that provides hope and life-long learning skills.”

For more information on Lions Connected, contact Gerlinde Beckers at gerlinde.beckers@southeastern.edu.

Above image: From left are Chair of American Council on Rural Special Education Tina Hudson, Lions Connected Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of Education Gerlinde Beckers, Southeastern middle school special education  /  social studies major Emma Beckers, and Southeastern Teaching and Learning Department Head Colleen Klein-Ezell.

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