First Falcon Flight students graduate

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – Nine students became the first graduates of the University of Montevallo’s Falcon Flight program in a May 14 ceremony in UM’s Comer Auditorium.

“I am so proud of all of us,” Falcon Flight graduate Kristie Harper said to her classmates. “It takes someone special to teach someone special. I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. This experience has changed our lives.”

Falcon Flight’s Class of 2019 also included RayShaun Bivins, Erech Brown, Preston Chambliss, Peyton Danzer, Cassidy Fortenberry, Aaron Hawks, Sara McGary and Andrew Murdoch.

The transition program, made possible through a partnership between Shelby County Schools and the University of Montevallo, is designed for students ages 18-21 with special needs who have completed the requirements for a high school diploma.

These students are the first graduates of Falcon Flight, a new transition program offered through a partnership between the University of Montevallo and Shelby County Schools. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Students in Falcon Flight can get a taste of the college experience while learning life skills and completing internships and on-the-job training.

Lead special education teacher Susan Skipper thanked students’ families, city leaders, the University of Montevallo and Shelby County Schools representatives for their support of the program in its inaugural year.

“We couldn’t have done it without any of you,” she said. “We have had a great year of growth. All of this is possible only with all of your help.”

Dr. Marla Aldrich, Shelby County Schools special education and 504 coordinator, held up a kaleidoscope and said it was symbolic of the many different combinations of experiences that have shaped students’ lives.

“Each of you are shaped by all of the experiences and all of the people you’ve met in your lives,” Aldrich said. “Just appreciate the beauty and chaos in your life, and be grateful for all of your blessings.”

Sarah Hendren, UM’s director of partnerships and outreach, said the word “excitement” came to her mind when she thought of the students in Falcon Flight.

“Every time I see one of you guys, you all are just excited,” Hendren said. “My wish for each of you is that you never lose that excitement. To say this year has been a whirlwind for all of us is an understatement for sure. I think it’s safe to say the results have been tremendous.”

Job coach Jan Corbett said students have learned how to cook, set up a bank account and clean, among other essential life skills.

“It’s been a very successful year,” Corbett said. “The city of Montevallo has been wonderful about letting students go to work at businesses. We’re very pleased.”