Wildcat LEAP Provides Extra Support for Transitioning to College

For JWU Entrepreneurship major Jonah, being part of JWU’s Wildcat Learning Effectiveness in Action Program (LEAP) is like “always having a hand on your back.”

As the only college learning program of its kind in Rhode Island, JWU’s fee-based service helps students with learning differences prepare for college. Wildcat LEAP has helped students with learning disabilities, chronic medical conditions, ADHD, physical and mental impairments, psychiatric conditions and brain injuries feel confident and ready to succeed as college students.

How LEAP Works

Wildcat LEAP Director Nicole Hebert, LICSW, and her team are dedicated to supporting students who face difficulties with executive functioning, which includes time management, self-management, decision making, prioritizing tasks and organizing thoughts and activities. Underdeveloped executive functioning skills could lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and gaps between academic potential and actual grades.

LEAP Director Nicole Hebert greets visitors to the LEAP space


Students accepted into LEAP experience:

• a 10-day summer program before JWU’s official move-in date
• one-on-one support during the academic year
• small group activities to foster effective learning and independence
• a 3-credit course only available to LEAP participants

The summer component provides students with opportunities to connect with peers, a way to build confidence through games and local field trips to acclimate to Providence. Summer presentation topics include getting along with roommates, making healthy choices and communicating with instructors.

Current LEAP student Jonah, an Entrepreneurship major in the Class of 2025, found that moving into JWU early and getting to know classmates and teachers during the summer made the transition to college smooth; he already saw familiar faces, had people to eat with and knew his way around the buildings for attending classes. “When everyone else arrived for moving day and was running around, I was calm and felt like the most organized kid.”

Amara, a Dietetics and Applied Nutrition major in the Class of 2024 and a past LEAP participant, wholeheartedly agreed. “It was a good transition between high school summer life and starting college, when you’re needing to focus and hone in on skills,” she reports.

closeup of a weekly planner, one tool used in organizing and focusing on tasks


Throughout the year, LEAP participants are taught various learning strategies that become habits, and they also take a 3-credit course taught by JWU faculty. This year’s course provided students with an applied, experiential exploration of metacognitive-based learning-strategy skill sets intended to enhance their self-efficacy as students and global citizens. The course included the practice of techniques intended to enhance understanding via experiential engagement and reflective learning.

The program concludes with a personalized learning portfolio to help each student continue on a journey of success. To help them stay motivated going forward, the portfolio also incorporates students’ own personal reflections and their own Personal Strategic Plan that they create in class during the fall semester.

“I could transition the communication skills we fostered in LEAP class discussions to other classes with my peers.”
- Amara, LEAP Alum

Unparalleled Support

Fatima Martins Abbott, LICSW, who has 30 years’ experience working with students of all ages with disabilities in school and community-based settings, serves as Wildcat LEAP’s advisor during the academic year. She focuses on individualized support for her students, put into action through tailored meetings that cultivate everything from organization and time management to prioritizing and planning. She also develops each students' accommodation plan and connects students with additional JWU services, such as tutoring and counseling. “I work in partnership with my students and strive to have an open and trusting relationship where students know they will not be judged. I am committed to helping them meet their goals 100%,” she said.

Amara also called out faculty who impacted her LEAP experience. Her LEAP class did lot of projects about personal experiences and journeys. “Professor Kevin DeJesus always encouraged us to share our thoughts and opinions if we felt comfortable, to discuss what we learned from a project. I could transition the communication skills we fostered in LEAP class discussions to other classes with my peers.”

“If you know how to learn, you’ll advance no matter where you are; it’s a lifelong concept.”
- José, LEAP Parent

Parent-Approved Program

Students benefit from LEAP — and parents beam with pride. Roberta’s son has learning difficulties that require accommodations for him to demonstrate his knowledge. It was important to Roberta that her son’s need for these accommodations be respected, so she was glad to hear about the Wildcat LEAP program through a college counselor. “There are no words strong enough to express my appreciation for all the support, insight, encouragement, and teaching that Fatima has offered my son through their counseling relationship and classroom,” she said. She’s thrilled that her son is doing great academically and has found an organized way to approach prioritizing tasks, keeping his dorm room clean and finding alternative strategies to solving problems. “For the first time, he is discovering that he likes doing homework and is thriving in his academic work.”

José, another parent of a LEAP participant, learned of the program while his daughter was in the process of being admitted into JWU and sees great benefit in its learning approaches. “People assume that you know how to learn, but it’s an acquired skill like anything else,” José said. “If you know how to learn, you’ll advance no matter where you are; it’s a lifelong concept.” He was also thrilled with LEAP staff, calling them “very knowledgeable, always willing to help, and clearly want to see each student succeed” and adding, “You can see in how they act, and communicate, and try to help and suggest new things.”

Progress in Action

Prior to LEAP, Amara, who has battled dyslexia, anxiety and depression, found academic support extremely helpful for her success. But it seems LEAP has given her something more: confidence and knowledge that helps her navigate stressors in the classroom and her personal life. She thanks Abbott, along with Accessibility Services Advisor Shelly Olausen, for helping her obtain a leadership position on JWU’s Presidential Advisory Council, a group of 12 students who work with Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa and Associate Dean Mary Graf. “We’re actively working to make JWU a better place by listening to the voices of students and making sure they’re heard by the executives making the decisions.”

a view of a bulletin board at LEAP sharing event and activity opportunities


For Jonah, he gained a network of advisors and peers he can count on. In addition to a weekly check-in on his work, Jonah said that LEAP pushes him to meet with teachers if he’s having trouble. He even made a best friend during the summer session who he sees every day. “I’m still close with everyone I met through LEAP. We’re a community,” he said.

Abbott said of students, “I love to hear how they know they can make it now, and hearing goals such as ‘I want to be head chef at a major hotel chain like the Hilton.’ I also love to see the growth in students that are now RAs or hold leadership positions. And I love celebrating achievement of their dreams, such as a former LEAP student who got approved to do their internship in Disney, which they had told me was a dream of theirs.”

Focus on Excellence

The Wildcat LEAP program solicits feedback from both students and parents each year to be sure they’re on the right track and seek opportunities for improvement. That could look like a LEAP Lounge, which was just added to the John Hazen White Accessibility Services office this year, to increased opportunities for LEAP study groups and the current cohort to build a stronger peer support network throughout the year. The program’s ultimate goal: to serve their participants in building skills to successfully navigate JWU and beyond.

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