Jake Van Meter
What qualities define a student–or anyone else for that matter–as successful? Take Jake Van Meter. He’s smart, sociable and possesses a fine sense of humor. He’s just a few courses away from earning his associate’s degree. And with three others, he has challenged the state of Maine to provide alternate housing opportunities for people with disabilities.
Van Meter, 27, also has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects his speech and motor skills. With the help and encouragement of his mother, Linda Elliott, the disorder has not kept him from pursuing his goals. Today, Van Meter lives in a nursing home, a situation he hopes to change for himself and for others like him who have signed on to the class-action lawsuit filed in US District Court.
Van Meter attends classes at University College at Ellsworth, part of the Hancock County Higher Education Center. According to Bonnie Sparks, Director of the center, Van Meter’s sense of humor and trust in others have enriched that center’s community and helped to deepen its staff’s understanding of what it means to offer access to college.
“Jake’s determination challenges me to be a constant champion of access to a college education for all people,” Sparks says. “He has taught me that the most difficult barriers are often not the most obvious. In the classroom, virtual or onsite, Jake is the gold standard for engagement; he challenges us as educators to consider how we teach, how students learn and how we assess that learning.”
The non-traditional student body at the center offers an acceptance of differences often not found on a traditional campus.
“It’s a good environment for Jake,” Elliott said. “There is a kind of bonding that goes on among students there.”
Van Meter has sampled the range of course modalities –ITV, online and on-site. He has four classes left in his associate’s degree program in Mental Health and Human Services, but he may complete the six courses needed to earn the certificate as well.
Elliott hopes that after graduation improved communication devices will allow her son to get employment in his field. She knows that his experiences learning to make independent decisions and insisting on equality in dealing with caregivers are valuable skills in and of themselves and make Jake uniquely qualified to help others like himself find a measure of independence.
“Being disabled and dependent is not a situation anyone wants to be in,” said Elliott.