HNHS-HU partnership puts local man on road to independence

On the job, Zachery Arivett wipes down the pizza counter in the dining commons at Huntington University during lunchtime on Wednesday, March 1. Arivett participates in the ABLE program, a partnership between HU and Huntington North High School for students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities.
On the job, Zachery Arivett wipes down the pizza counter in the dining commons at Huntington University during lunchtime on Wednesday, March 1. Arivett participates in the ABLE program, a partnership between HU and Huntington North High School for students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published on March 6, 2017.

At 20 years old, Zachery Arivett is busy being a college student — going to classes, hanging out on campus and holding down a part-time job.

He plays video games and makes the traditional college student late-night runs to Taco Bell with friends.

He has a quiet confidence that underlies a winsome sense of humor.

And while many think this is just the norm for a young man his age, Arivett considers it to be his success story, because it is.

Arivett, of Huntington, spoke to the Huntington County Community Sch-ool Corporation Board on Monday, Feb. 27, about how the Huntington University’s ABLE program has given him a leg up to become independent.

ABLE — which stands for Achieving Balance in Life through Education — is a partnership with Huntington North High School to offer special education students with cognitive disabilities a college experience.

But for Arivett, it’s simply the next step in his journey to living on his own and becoming a productive member of society.

“I do lots of stuff in the community,” he told the board, smiling. “I work in the dining commons. There are parts of my job that I don’t enjoy, but I know it’s part of my growing up.

“I don’t like to wait to eat so late, at 1 o’clock. But I like that I get paid.”

Arivett also attributes much of his maturity to ABLE, as he said he was not a Christian in high school, but is now                                             and enjoys learning about the Bible and the Old and New Testaments, especially the Book of Revelation. He has also learned how to deal with anger issues.

“When I was in high school I was literally mad all the time. I don’t need to be angry a lot anymore,” he says. “ABLE teaches how to become an adult and not stay a kid. People at HU understand me, and I can be comfortable with who I am.”

Arivett started in the ABLE program when it first began, in 2014, when he was 18. A junior, he has one more year before he graduates.

The transition program is for special education students ages 18 to 24. Huntington North High School provides a teacher for two hours and a job coach for six hours each day.

Students take an ABLE class in the morning to learn independent living skills, then they audit HU classes of their choice. They attend chapel one to two times per week, and have job placements either on or off campus. They also give back by volunteering in the community.

“It is designed to support students with cognitive disabilities, both mild and moderate,” explains tea-cher Maggie Steensma. “Once students have exhausted all of the independent living classes that we offer at the high school, because they’ve already been there four years, because special education students can be in high school or can graduate when they’re 22.

“So oftentimes they can be in the high school for eight years, and there is only so many classes that are available to them, that they can grow and continue to learn from.

“So once they’ve been there for four years, they’re not necessarily ready to live independently in their post-secondary lives yet, so this is a great program, that’s kind of a transition for them.”

ABLE Coordinator Erica Marshall says there are currently five students in the program, but that number is likely to increase next year now that Huntington University has taken over ownership and can offer ABLE to students outside Huntington County.

Marshall says ABLE gets students out of the high school and challenges them on a college level.

“They navigate this campus independently, and go all over campus, from building to building,” she says. “In those independent living skills classes that they’ve been taught at the high school all these years, then they come here and they have to put them into place.”

The two-hour ABLE class focuses on such life skills as how to balance a checkbook, using credit cards, social media, current events, cooking, safety and social skills such as conflict resolution.

When students graduate from the ABLE program, they will have the skills they need to live independently or at least continue on past high school, Steensma says.

“They also learn how to deal with other people with disabilities and differences, and how to treat everybody with respect,” she says, adding that the students also learn about disability rights in the class.

Arivett has made some discoveries about himself he might not have learned otherwise. He has discovered a love of the theater and relishes attending plays as well as movies. He even played a peasant in a history class assignment and had a small part in a short skit for a final exam. He also enjoys going to sporting events and playing the Skyrim video game.

Being at HU has allowed Arivett to meet new people and make new friends, especially friends who understand and accept him.

Although he does not quite yet know what he will do when he finishes up with the ABLE program, he definitely has some dreams and ideas about how he wants his life to be. He wants his own apartment, and a good job.

“I still want to do that, but I want to do missions work,” he adds. “Being a Christian, figuring out my purpose.”