Students overcome mental health obstacles to college

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Michael Fields spoke excitedly about his hopes of becoming a chef, a broadcaster or special education teacher, but when asked about his past schooling experience, the 38-year-old paused and looked down at his hands.

“In junior high and in high school, my teachers told me I wasn’t college material,” Fields said. “I’m about to attend Schoolcraft College in the fall. I wish I could tell the teachers that doubted me, now watch me.”

Fields and 16 others graduated Tuesday from a program designed to help people with mental health issues get ready to attend college. The ceremony for the Supported Education program was at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus.

The free six-month program, offered through a Lincoln Park-based outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment facility Community Care Services, helps adult students in treatment for mental health issues prepare academically and psychologically for higher education. It’s funded by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

All 17 students will enroll in a community college in the fall.

Daniel Klinkert, manager of Supported Education, said the program helps participants get used to studying and learning after years away from school.

“A lot of times, the students entering the program are older and may have lost those classroom skills,” Klinkert said. “We address each issue individually because every person is capable of succeeding with the proper time and training.”

The course is the only one offered in the state and is broken down into 20 modules that focus on basic academic skills, studying, critical thinking, note-taking, computer skills and getting adjusted to college life.

Alexenia Okora of Detroit was pursuing her master’s degree 24 years ago when she suffered a mental setback, which caused her to drop out of school.

“I suffered from depression and anxiety. I ended up flunking out of my classes back then. I was scared to go back to school but when I entered Supported Education, they helped boost my confidence about enrolling,” Okora said. “I would advise everyone to go and get an education because it’s something that you will always have.”

She plans to pursue another degree at Wayne County Community College, though she hasn’t decided what to study.

This year, the program offered computerized courses and provided students with laptops to help acclimate to technology.

“Without certain computer skills, people can lag behind and not be able to get certain jobs that can help them advance,” Klinkert said. “Being able to work with computers and technology can help create better opportunities, which can enhance the quality of life.”

Lenice Hightower of Detroit never missed a day of class, and is determined to become the first person from her family to graduate from college. She plans to enroll at WCCD and become a peer specialist or go into culinary arts.

“There were days where it was a real challenge for me to get up and sit in a classroom, but this is an opportunity that I wanted for myself,” she said. “I always wanted to go to college but wasn't able to because of family circumstances. This program helped put me in the right direction and I’m very grateful.”

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