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Academy to teach life skills, independence to individuals with disabilities

Times West Virginian - 8/13/2022

Aug. 13—CLARKSBURG — Outside of the exceptional education programs in public schools, there are few opportunities for young adults with disabilities.

Pierpont Community & Technical College is stepping up to launch the first ever Pierpont PRIDE Academy, a free, post-secondary opportunity for individuals with disabilities or learning deficits to take part in the college experience.

The program will run from September to December then start back up alongside Pierpont's spring semester. All the classes will be held in Pierpont's Gaston Caperton Center in Clarksburg and the group will be split between a Monday and Wednesday cohort and a Tuesday and Thursday cohort.

Classes will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and students will be asked to bring their own lunch.

The program is made possible by a $150,000 grant Pierpont received from the Benedum Foundation to give young adults an opportunity to learn life skills and independence.

The program will be headed by Darin Walker, a retired FBI agent and policeman who has a special connection to this subject matter as his youngest daughter has Down syndrome and is enrolled in the program as well.

"The important thing is helping [students] live as independently as they can, whether that be signing your own rental agreement... or making yourself food and shopping at the store alone," Walker said. "There are varying degrees of independence — it's not all or nothing. We just need to max out their potential."

Twelve students will be admitted into the program this year and the groups will be split into classes of six.

Walker has big ideas for the semester and has a curriculum and activities planned.

He explained that there are things people without disabilities take for granted every day that are challenging for his daughter. For her, when she makes her own sandwich for lunch, it's a point of pride and accomplishment. Those are the sorts of moments the academy aims to create in the student's lives.

With smaller class sizes, Walker hopes to really focus on the individuals who are enrolled and cater the course to each one's needs.

"Every parent wants to see their child succeed and excel, whether that success is rocket science or baking a cake," Walker said. "There's no doubt some of our students will be able to live independently, so if we can give them that nudge of cooking and shopping and cleaning — if that's what they want to do — they should be able to do it."

In Fairmont, the community has access to the Disability Action Center, where its clients are taught many of the same things that will be a focus at Pierpont's academy.

Julie Sole, the DAC's director, said it's wonderful to see a post-secondary institution like Pierpont step up and give back to the community in this way.

"When any type of college or university looks at something like this and says, 'This is important, we want to offer it.' That really gives the program a lot of credibility," Sole said. "This is a real step beyond secondary education, and this takes that to another level."

There is a list of requirements for individuals to qualify for the PRIDE Academy. Students are expected to be able to sit in class, communicate, move and perform other basic independent actions.

There is also a pre-enrollment interview that will be given by officials in the Pierpont Disability Services office to evaluate each student.

To inquire about the program or for more information, email or call 304-367-4099. The program is set to start Sept. 7 and slots are limited.

Reach the author, David Kirk, at 304-367-2522 or by email at


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