Finding options for college success
Christine Anderson and Shoshana Axler started Otions for College Success without grant money. The residential version of the program costs $33,500 a year to help the learning-challenged transition into college. | Provided.
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:34AM
For 23-year-old Dina Steindler, growing up with a learning disability meant life wasn’t always easy.
Yet, the Deerfield native – always trudging forward with a positive attitude and a smile on her face, has proven her ability to overcome the social and academic challenges she has faced over the years.
Steindler describes her disability as having “slow processing skills.” The condition put her in special education classes throughout middle and high school where she received extra support from teachers and tutors to help her make her grades.
After graduating from Deerfield High School in 2007 and enrolling in classes at Oakton Community College, Steindler found college to be a whole new ball game. During her first semester, she fell quickly fell behind in her classes without having the resources and support system that helped her excel in high school.
“In high school I was in a class with eight students and had one-on-one help every day,” Steindler said. “When I started at OCC it was a totally different world—I needed more help than what the learning center offered.”
Now a pre-school teacher at the Glencoe Park District, Steindler eventually earned her certificate in early childhood education from Oakton Community College in 2010, but the road through college was long and bumpy.
To find the increased level of support she needed to get through college, Steindler knew she would have to look outside of the college doors.
With her family’s help, she consulted with a non-profit organization based in Evanston called “Options for College Success,” which provides individualized help for learning-challenged post-secondary students.
Started by co-operators Christine Anderson and Shoshana Axler in 2008, Options for College Success is a private learning and social program that helps students between the ages of 18-30 transition to college by helping young men and women develop the skills, confidence and courage needed to transition into living independently as adults and eventually becoming members of the workforce.
The program, however, isn’t cheap.
For a fee of $33,500 per year for the residential program where students live in a semi-independent apartment complex near the center, or $850 per month for the as-needed extension program for students who are able to live on their own without assistance, Options for College Success aims to help young adults overcome their learning challenges by providing assistance in four categories.
Services are provided by tutors and specialists who do everything from hosting social outings to movies and restaurants to help clients develop social skills to teaching them how to cook and do laundry and balance their finances.
Anderson and Axler met while working together at “College Living Experience,” a similar program that closed down several years ago. When that center closed, the two women decided to team up and open a similar company of their own.
Without help from grants, Anderson and Axler said they opened the center with their personal savings and with financial help from students’ families.
“We do this because we’ve seen the need for these services first-hand, and that need has been kind of ignored until now,” said Axler, whose own son was diagnosed with a learning disability. “The students are spectacular and it’s a delight working with them – this job is the love of my life.”
In Steindler’s case, she needed a full-fledged support system to help streamline her living, learning and social life.
She moved into an apartment complex where a residential advisor employed by Options for College Success helps about 20 students who are enrolled in the program by teaching them to cook for themselves, do laundry, and keep their living quarters tidy.
Living in the small apartment complex community – where many young professionals and families not associated with the program also live – is also a way for the students to make friends and connect with one another, Axler said.
“It’s their first time out on their own and these students might need a little more support than most do,” Axler said. “We’re always evaluating and checking their progress until they can do everything all on their own – at the beginning the support is heavier and then it starts to get lighter as time goes on.”
It’s been four years and counting since Steindler started with Options for College Success, and she has since become a successful young adult.
She said she owes her success to the tutors and counselors who helped get her through college.
“They created a consistent schedule for me, which really helped out a lot – if I didn’t have them I know I wouldn’t be working as a pre-school teacher now,” Steindler said.