Implemented in the fall of 2016, the NEXT program at Northwestern works to provide the next step after high school for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Trey Poppema, currently in his second year of the program, was the first student. The program is designed to be completed in two years.
The program was built from the ground up. The backbones for the program are head of academic support John Menning and education professor Tonya Moore-Huss. These two believe the NEXT program will provide an opportunity to continue education for students like Poppema while being immersed in a strong Christian atmosphere.
A typical day for Poppema starts at 8:00 a.m. with math and reading. He then attends a class about life and social skills. Then Poppema spends time with various mentors eating lunch and working on homework. In the afternoon, he has time dedicated to a fitness program. NW student Josh Lucken helped take charge of the fitness plan. Poppema does various forms of cardio and weight lifting with a mentor.
Poppema also job shadows. He works at the Rowenhorst Student Center desk and happily welcomes people into the workout facility. He has also started working at Town Square Coffeehouse, where he helps clean tables and prepare smoothies. Occasionally,
Poppema volunteers at the concession stand for sporting events. These experiences allow him to get real world experience using the skills he develops in his classes. In the evening, he attends campus activities with a mentor. During his free time, Poppema participates in the typical social life of a college student. He goes to bowling alleys, volleyball games, Pumpkinland and more.
There are about 50 mentors who have spent time with Poppema throughout the past year and a half. The mentors have the option for it to be a work study or just volunteer. Moore-Huss also has some of her special education students spend time volunteering with Poppema.
“The NEXT program helps give education students the opportunity to use their time and talents,” Moore-Huss said. “Trey greatly benefits from meeting new friends but the biggest thing is seeing how Trey impacts all the students.”
The program was developed to help benefit Poppema and other students similar to him, but it has actually benefited the school just as much, if not more. Many people who have gotten to work with him say nothing but good things about him.
“Every time I have the pleasure of spending time with him, he never fails to demonstrate characteristics of love and joy,” senior NW student mentor Alison Schutt said.
The NEXT program is also intended to educate others. The hope is that it will broaden people’s knowledge and change the way they look at people with disabilities.
This May, Poppema will be walking across the graduation stage and receiving a certificate of completion.
“Trey is like family to me,” Moore-Huss said. “It will be hard to think of him not being here. He was the perfect first student for the NEXT program.”
This is a view that is shared by many others in the NW community. As of now, the future for the NEXT program is unsure but many are hopeful and praying that it will continue.