UA’s third-year college prep program helps Hoover man win at Special Olympics
By David Miller
It’s hard to imagine an athlete not training five weeks before a big competition. But it was a real possibility for Wyman Freeman, who faced missing swim workouts ahead of the Special Olympics USA Games in early July.
Freeman’s participation in Summer Bridge, a University of Alabama college readiness program for individuals with intellectual disabilities, would provide independent living experiences and help build social skills needed to make college a reality. But the program’s daily schedule is typically packed with college courses, job training and activities across campus, leaving little time for workouts.
But, true to the UA campus experience, Freeman found time, a venue and a program to continue swimming. He trained with UA’s Masters Swim, a program for competitive swimmers at the UA Aquatic Center, during the month of June. Freeman refined his backstroke technique during that span and carried it over to competition at the Special Olympics’ national games July 1-6 in Seattle, where he won a silver medal in both the 100-meter backstroke and 4×25 relay.
“I was happy,” said Freeman of medaling in Seattle.
Freeman has Pervasive Developmental Delay, which affects his ability to communicate. He’s participated in a variety of schools and camps designed for children and adults with developmental disabilities, including Unless U, a continuing education program in Vestavia. While Freeman had been away from home for previous camps, none of the programs matched the combination of faculty, curriculum and immersion of Summer Bridge, said Susan Freeman, Wyman’s mother.
“There were some unknowns, initially,” Susan said. “I knew Wyman could travel and be away from us, but it was with kids he’d grown up with. Would he adjust? Would he even be eligible for the Summer Bridge program? We’d been mulling over what the next step would be, and once we came to campus and realized Wyman already knows (Summer Bridge coordinator) Amy Williamson and Keith (Jenkins) at Tuscaloosa PARA, that made things much better.”
Summer Bridge launched in 2016 after UA’s CrossingPoints program received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a second tier to its student transition program. While Summer Bridge shares objectives with the Tier 1 program, like enhancing social skills and hirability, it focuses more on readying students for college and provides access to UA’s course catalog.
Since 2016, faculty in 25 departments have allowed Summer Bridge students to attend their classes. The students’ level of participation in the classes varies based on their individual needs and the course content. Program personnel collaborate with faculty to tailor the learning experiences for each student, and the data will ultimately influence CrossingPoints’ next step: a year-round college track.
“Since the inception of the Tier 1 program in 2001, more and more people on campus are not only becoming aware of us, but becoming supporters,” Williamson said. “With Summer Bridge students being on campus 24/7, the support has grown exponentially, especially with the professors who are allowing the students to explore postsecondary opportunities in the classroom.”
Summer Bridge students attend various classes and activities with one of the program’s 25 UA mentors. Wyman was one of two Summer Bridge students to attend Masters Swim courses with Jordan Croson, an undergraduate special education major who helped communicate instructions from swim coach Ed Reed.
“I could teach Jordan a skill, have her demonstrate to both swimmers, make corrections, then have her work with the two while I went over to the other group to check on workout progress,” Reed said. “We got into a pattern where a skill would be added into a routine, then practiced by doing several lengths of the pool. With Jordan keeping them on track I could watch and make necessary adjustments when they finished a particular task.”
Reed said he’s gratified by his experiences working with Summer Bridge students, from seeing athletes succeed in competition and grow in skill, to channeling creativity, patience and focus to better connect with Summer Bridge swimmers, and ultimately, improve as a coach.
“Teaching them the basics of breath control, push-offs the wall, survival techniques and stroke modification were focused on at the beginning,” Reed said. “You quickly learn to keep things as simple as possible and accept limitations in their ability to learn more advanced technique skills because their attention span could drift away at any moment. Identifying with each of them and their personalities was very helpful, plus trying to create humor or any type of conversation that they could immediately identify with was very helpful.”
Summer Bridge concluded Aug. 3 with a celebration on campus.
The Freemans plan to pursue Summer Bridge in 2019.
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.