TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Jamaica Cooper had a negative attitude and was doing anything to try to fit in. Cooper, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, struggled to accept whatever physical limitations she had. She was different, and that was OK. But it wasn’t until she enrolled in CrossingPoints at The University of Alabama that she was able to become a confident and happy young woman.
On Thursday, at the Ferguson Center ballroom on the UA campus, Cooper, along with six others, graduated from CrossingPoints, a transition program for young adults ages 18-21.
“What I learned in CrossingPoints are not things that are taught every day – self-determination and who I am,” said Cooper, 21. “I found myself here. I grew up here. I matured in such a way that the world and other teachers couldn’t teach me.”
CrossingPoints is a partnership among UA and the Tuscaloosa City and County school systems that helps students with significant disabilities develop skills necessary for successful adult functioning.
Students develop and strengthen social skills and get job training on campus at such facilities as The Rec and Bryant Conference Center as well as at stores and restaurants around Tuscaloosa.
Cooper, though, didn’t immediately fit into the program, despite the range of activities, from performing in plays and watching movies with her classmates.
“My first year was tough,” she said. “I fought against everyone who tried to help me, but they never gave up one me. The next year, I was Washington, D.C., bound to present at my first conference.”
Amy Williamson is program director for CrossingPoints and has worked with the program for 11 years. She said Cooper’s struggle wasn’t due to her disability, but with her heart and ability to trust the staff.
“It was about being able to see herself as someone who could be successful,” Williamson said. “She knew it was in there, but she didn’t know if she could get it out. I can’t tell you a moment when it clicked … she just realized we were fighting for her and not against her.”
Ninety-five students have graduated from CrossingPoints since 2002. Five of the seven graduates in the 2016 class have already secured permanent employment. This year’s graduates include Cooper, Patrick Barnes, Otis Johnson, Tre’Anthony Jordan, Treonte Sanders, Cameron Tubbs and Brad Zizzi.
Barnes, a graduate of Bryant High School, said he’ll miss the relationships with his classmates, but the on-the-job training and learning to stay on-task and remain focused will be the most beneficial when he enters the work force.
“I really enjoyed being in this program,” Barnes said. “It’s taught me everything I need to know to be an independent person. It’s taught me life-long skills that I’ll need in the near future.”
In November 2015, CrossingPoints received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education to expand the program. The grant has allowed CrossingPoints to add an additional 10 students each year to bring the class roster to 30. Additionally, the program has added the Summer Bridge Program, a component that will provide college preparation to students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. This preparation ranges from guidance on how to complete financial aid paperwork to simulations of independent living. Dr. Kagendo Mutua, professor of severe and profound disabilities and transition in the department of special education and multiple abilities in UA’s College of Education, said the grant also allowed the program to hire additional graduate assistants, many of whom will return next season as PhD students.
As many as four graduates from the Class of 2016 will participate in the Bridge program this summer.
“I’m hoping to get a receptionist job,” Cooper said. “I also want to be a motivational speaker. Hopefully, I will get into taking classes at Shelton State.
“I wouldn’t have these opportunities, but CrossingPoints has a second-tier, it’s something to look forward to.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.