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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Project FOCUS sees first graduating class this spring

Ryan Revock
Ryan Revock / Arizona Daily Wildcat Matthew Fairbanks (right), a first year Project FOCUS student, researches the job market with peer mentor Annie Kosky (left), a undecided freshman, Tuesday afternoon. Fairbanks hopes to continue on at UA after he completes Project FOCUS.

Five UA students will be the first to graduate through a UA project targeted at helping students with intellectual disabilities.

The UA and the Tucson Unified School District teamed up to create Project Focusing Opportunities with Community and University Support to give students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to make their college dreams a reality.

The five students graduating are Ani King, Reina Koussa, Alexis Trevizo, Matthew Wall and Heidilynn Frontroth.

The core of the program is geared toward helping students with intellectual disabilities develop self-reliance and become as employable as possible, according to Dan Perino, the TUSD liaison for Project FOCUS.

“[Project FOCUS students’ graduating] is phenomenal. It is a wonderful celebration; the families are so excited — they had never foreseen such a wonderful opportunity to graduate from the University of Arizona,” said Stephanie MacFarland, program director for Project FOCUS. “Our families of this first five that are graduating, they were wonderful; they were supportive, positive, ready to take the risk, and they are so proud of their son or daughter in this program.”

Students in TUSD with intellectual disabilities are eligible to apply to the program, Perino said. Students must also have a desire to be on campus and take classes as well as to find a job after they have completed the program.

The curriculum for the students is tailored to the individual, said Phyllis Brodsky, program coordinator for Project FOCUS. Students are required to take a service learning class, and from there they take classes they are interested in. Students are also required to have internships related to their interests while in the program.

“Students are students,” MacFarland said. “Students of Project FOCUS are community members of this university as anyone is, and [Project FOCUS] can offer them the opportunity to learn academically as well in life opportunities that all students have here in the university.”

Matthew Fairbanks is finishing up his first year with the program after learning about Project FOCUS as a student at Pima Community College. This semester Fairbanks is taking nine credits, with classes in sociology, anthropology and physical education, and during the fall 2012 semester he
held an internship with the Pride of Arizona marching band.

“My experience of that internship became good,” Fairbanks said. “I have good internship, made some friends over at the marching band and having a good time.”

Fairbanks said he took sociology and anthropology because he is interested in learning about all different types of people and that he plans on joining intramural indoor soccer on campus in the
near future. After Fairbanks is done with the program, he said he wants to continue on at the UA,
but is still deciding what to major in.

However, Project FOCUS is not just about academics. The program is also aimed at giving students the ability to experience college life, according to Alison Burnette, lead instructor for campus life with Project FOCUS. Burnette said her mission is to really “enhance their social life.”

“Project FOCUS is a good place for me to do homework and hang out with some friends, hang out with peer mentors and work hard and study hard for my homework and upcoming tests and exams,” Fairbanks said. “So it is a good place for people with disabilities to be here, and the only reason I came here is to help, have Project FOCUS help me to get college experience.”

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