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Navigator Prep Group 2019
First graduates of Navigator PREP celebrate their accomplishment.

By Dan Wine

If there’s any doubt about the effectiveness of Beacon College’s Navigator PREP program, just ask the students and parents involved. Every one of them would recommend it to other families.

Alexander Morris-Wood, Beacon’s director of transition services and outreach, developed Navigator PREP, the country’s first virtual transition program for learning-disabled students that specifically works on executive functioning, social skills and emotional management.

Morris-Wood said he expected to start Navigator PREP with eight students and ended up with 50. The program just keeps growing: It’s now open to all students, not just those at Beacon College. In two years, he has worked with 110 families.

Navigator PREP offers individualized assessments and stresses parental involvement.

“We collaborate with different departments on our campus: student life, counseling, academic support,” Morris-Wood said. “We have significant documentation and reporting so that when the student enters the college, not only do they feel more confident about how to interact with different people, but the professionals have a deeper understanding of their needs so that rapport can be developed quicker and resources can be implemented sooner.”

A few statistics point to the program’s positive impact:

Navigator PREP — offered for three, six or nine months — starts at $1,000 for Beacon students and $1,500 for others. Next year, Morris-Wood plans to launch a version for high school juniors who want to get an earlier start. 

Bob and Michelle Bourbon said their son Joshua, who has high-functioning autism, dysgraphia, and an auditory processing disorder, benefits from small class sizes and a low student-to-teacher ratio. When they started looking at potential college options and asking pointed questions, they weren’t encouraged by the answers.

They learned about Beacon College from one of his high school teachers.

“And I said, ‘Well … we’re not really sure he’s going to go to college,’” Michelle Bourbon recalled. “And she said: ‘Joshua is going to college, and he’s very intelligent, and you need to go check out Beacon College.’”

The Bourbons liked what they saw, and Navigator PREP has been a key part of Joshua’s successful transition to college. They said the organizational skills and roommate match were especially valuable.

Navigator PREP actually took away a lot of Joshua’s and our anxieties and helped us take active, positive steps toward preparing him from an organizational standpoint, but also from an emotional standpoint to know what to expect,” his mother said.

Bob Bourbon said the program erases doubts about whether students with learning disabilities can overcome the culture shock of such dramatic change.

“Because the washout of college really isn’t kids who can’t do college work. The washout is always kids who can’t acclimate to the new life,” he said. “And I think that’s where the real value was. He convinced these kids that they could acclimate to the new life.”

Joshua is now a 19-year-old freshman dual-majoring in human services and business management.

Talia Sauer, a 20-year-old Beacon student from Jacksonville, said she and her parents attended an open house, learned about Navigator PREP and decided it was right for her.

“It really helped me know what college is actually like, so if I didn’t do it, it would’ve been a little bit of a harder transition for me,” said Sauer, who has autism spectrum disorder. “It got me to know and get in touch with so many people, which I’m very happy about.”

Three of her roommates are part of Navigator PREP as well.

Sauer, who is majoring in business management hospitality, said she earned all A’s in her first semester. She also joined the Beacon Voices music ensemble and is meeting more people. 

Morris-Wood said he’s happy to see Navigator PREP students engaging socially.

“We had a lot of students run for student government leadership positions, which really showcased not only that they feel comfortable joining the community but felt that they could take that social risk and be a leader,” he said. “That was really encouraging to see. So not only did we see the social-emotional success, we also saw how this plays out in the classroom.

“I think it’s just a testament to the great families that we get to work with.”