Program offers college opportunity for local special needs student

Noah VanVooren, a senior in high school with Down syndrome, has been accepted to Edgewood College's Cutting Edge program.
Noah VanVooren, a senior in high school with Down syndrome, has been accepted to Edgewood College's Cutting Edge program.

LITTLE CHUTE - Noah Van Vooren and his parents, Todd and Kara, are still reeling from this moment.

“I've got goose bumps now. I was shaking, coming into the house because I knew our future was in this envelope,” said his mother, Kara VanVooren.

“My mom started to have tears,” Noah recalls.

This was the moment Noah found out he was going to college.

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“I was hoping maybe not because I don't want him to leave!” said his father, Todd VanVooren.

VanVooren has Down syndrome. But the Little Chute senior always kept goals beyond high school.

“It's very exciting to go to Edgewood. Edgewood is a really, really good campus. I like going down there. It's the best time,” said VanVooren.

“He knows that his friends are going to go to college and he never thought for a minute that he didn't think he was going. As parents when you hear that, you just try to do everything you can to make that happen for your kid,” said Kara VanVooren.

Now that their oldest child is off to college in the fall, his parents are still choked up.

Not just from the acceptance letter - but from the warm reaction across the country to the video.

“As a man, this is why, right here. It's emotional,” said his dad, fighting back tears. “It's up and down and up and down. As the man you're supposed to be the tough guy. But it's unbelievable. I never realized this would happen. But it did.”

Although the VanVoorens say many people are surprised their son can go to college.

“They don't know what to think and they don't know how it works and they have lots of questions, because they didn't know kids like Noah could have this opportunity,” said his mom.

We traveled to Edgewood College in Madison to learn about Cutting Edge.

This class looks like any other.

That's because the classes at Edgewood are fully integrated with the special needs students. It's the only college in Wisconsin to offer this kind of program.

“More and more adults now have lived with individuals with disabilities and have gone to school with them, so this is just the next level. This is where we need to take it next because if students are going to change from students to participating adults, we want them to have jobs. And in order to get jobs, you need training,” said Cutting Edge Co-founder Courtney Moffat.

Moffat says the program admits 20 students a year with an essay and interview process. Once accepted, students may audit classes or take them for credit. They can earn a Cutting Edge program certificate, a two-year program certificate, or a four-year degree.

Sophomore Kathleen Coogan is one of the Cutting Edge program's success stories. She dreams of being an artist.

“I'm hoping I can work on the art business, and get the most out of that. Maybe looking around for some more jobs. I was hoping I can be working in Starbucks in the community,” said Coogan, who added that she works at a coffee shop on campus.

In addition to art, Coogan has taken safety courses, working toward independence.

“I live off-campus,” said Coogan. “I walk every morning. I get up on time, and I get to classes and I've been so independent. It's fun being independent, too.

But Cutting Edge students aren't completely on their own.

“We have peer mentors for everyone that's either going to be living on campus or in an apartment. So we have apartments that are Cutting Edge apartments, where we integrate them with individuals without disabilities,” said Moffat.

“That was the selling point for us. When we realized that they knew that young adults with disabilities needed more relationships than paid relationships in their lives, we knew it would be a great fit for him,” said Kara VanVooren.

Yet the VanVoorens still have some reservations.

“My parents are scared,” said Noah.

“We depended on each other for so long and now it's going to be one less,” said his dad.

Current students have some advice for Noah.

“I would say start out slow, and try it out and see how you feel. And it's going to be overwhelming sometimes,” said Coogan.

But the VanVoorens say their son is ready for the challenge.

“He's a pretty positive guy, and that's what makes him unique,” said Kara VanVooren.

“It's going to be tough but he has the will to do it. Like his shirt says, unstoppable,” said Todd VanVooren.

Noah says after college, he'd like to have a career helping people; maybe, even become a pastor.