On the first day of the semester, nine people wander into the fine arts room at Lebanon College, taking seats at tables arranged in a rectangle. Outside, the wind pushes dry leaves across the concrete walkway; inside, the students unpack laptops, notebooks, pens and pencils. As a warmup, they each choose a word to describe how they are feeling. Kimberley Wolk is “a little heartsick” because she had to put her orange and white tabby cat, Casey, to sleep that day. Her eyes are sad behind her glasses, and classmate Ashley Dow walks over to hug her. “I love you,” Dow says. A handful of others jump up to hug Wolk, who musters a smile. “OK,” she says. “Go sit down.” They wrap up one agenda item, and Patrick Green, who is running the seminar that week, pauses. “Shall I go on?”
“You’re leading,” Wolk says. “You decide.” “Oh, OK,” Green says, and moves to the next topic. The college is their home base, but the men and women are part of Global Campuses Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to provide advanced learning opportunities for people with disabilities. In addition to the Upper Valley site, known as Shiremont, the Randolph-based organization has seven campuses in Vermont and seven in Thailand, with an eighth soon to open.
Participants design and lead the classes, with coaching from their peers and staff members. They create the course schedule, organize fundraisers, serve on the board of directors, and name their sites — Shiremont is an amalgam of New Hampshire and Vermont. As the semester unfolds, students use feedback from peers and staff members to refine their teaching. Their weekly seminars, such as the one led by Green, include teaching methods and discussions about campuswide concerns. “I think the cellphone thing is kind of an issue,” Dow said during the seminar.