YHS Special Education Student Is Experiencing College At MMU

May 24, 2024

Cora Van Olson

This story was originally published in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan and republished here with its permission. © Copyright 2024 yankton.net

Two local educational institutions have created a special college experience for a Yankton certificate graduate.

Last year, Olivia Rolston finished Yankton High School (YHS) with a special education certificate. As a certificate student, she is entitled to attend life skills and other classes at high school until she is 21. However, Olivia and her family also hoped she could have a collegiate experience — one involving volleyball.

Olivia, who was a student manager for the girls’ volleyball team at YHS, wanted an opportunity to continue doing that in a college setting.

“We wanted her to go to Wesleyan Quest in Mitchell,” Olivia’s mother, Robin Rolston, told the Press & Dakotan. “She had already been accepted to Wesleyan Quest, and she was going to be volleyball manager there.”

The Wesleyan Quest program is a partnership between Dakota Wesleyan University and LifeQuest. It aims to offer an integrated college experience for qualifying students transitioning from high school to adulthood. On completion, students receive a two-year certification from DWU.

At the time, Yankton did not have any similar opportunities, but on hearing Olivia’s plan to leave Yankton, YSD administrators offered to examine the possibility of a local option for Olivia.

“I said to Robin, ‘Yankton is very good about taking care of their own and working with their own kids,’” Jerome Klimisch, YSD Director of Student Services, told the Press & Dakotan. “I thought, the Yankton School District has a great relationship with a college in town with everything from our honors courses to college credit classes through Mount Marty University (MMU).”

Ultimately, the school district wants its students with disabilities to live in and be a part of the Yankton community because, generally, they already are a part of that community, he said.

“We reached out to Dr. Marcus Long (MMU president), asked if we could have a student audit a couple of classes, and he was a definite ‘yes,’” Klimisch said. “Then, our team, our teachers — including special education teacher Clara Schild — and myself got involved with the parents, Olivia and her grandmother. We met several times getting this all arranged.”

The group worked together to create what it agreed would be a good experience for Olivia, similar to an individualized education plan (IEP), but specifically geared toward MMU.

Olivia audited two classes per semester, including two health and wellness classes, an acting class and the freshman seminar. She also continued taking life skills at Yankton High School and currently participates in activities at Yankton’s Ability Building Services (ABS), while working part-time at Runza and the Heartland Humane Society.

“We had quite a few meetings at the beginning of the school year at Mount Marty, talking with several different people, making sure everything was in place,” Schild told the Press & Dakotan. “We were meeting with some of her professors and some other people there who helped get Olivia comfortable.”

Everyone at Mount Marty has been very easy to work with, offering various options to make it a successful year, she said.

“I started at the end of summer for volleyball,” Olivia told the Press & Dakotan. “I was shy and excited.”

She soon made friends with the volleyball girls and a couple of football players, she said.

Belen Albertos, MMU head volleyball coach, said that Olivia went to practices, sat on the bench for a home game and during practice, and helped check balls and keep score.

“I remember talking to Olivia and her mom at the beginning and them asking if we were OK with that, and of course, we were more than OK,” Albertos told the Press & Dakotan. “If somebody wants to be part of our team and be part of our family, we are really happy.”

Albertos said she felt the experience was good for Olivia and also really good for the team.

“Volleyball isn’t just about the sport; it’s about relationships,” she said. “One of the main values we have at Mount Marty for the volleyball team is ‘my family’ is at the top of the pyramid of all the values. It’s really good for (a person) to be part of that relationship.”

“Olivia did a great job,” Schild said. “It could have been an intimidating thing, but she took it on very nicely and just crushed it.”

“People are nice there and it’s fun to go to sports games,” Olivia said. “And classes aren’t that long — like they are at high school!”