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BEYOND Program Opens Doors for Youth Transition Student

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

By: Jamie Hardt, Program Director and Samantha Gores, Youth Transition Specialist

Stephanie Watt is a freshman student enrolled in the Dakota College Bottineau Passport Program offered at Minot State University. Stephanie is working towards a degree in Veterinary Medicine. Stephanie was born in Idaho, but her father’s occupation in the military allowed the family to live around the world, in places like Japan and England. Stephanie spent her early grade school years at Lakenheath AFB in England, where she first started to notice her disability. In the 2nd grade, she would be taken out of the classroom to play learning games and take tests. She also noticed it would take her hours to finish her math homework. Stephanie would occasionally wander away from her classmates, which caused the entire Air Force base to be shut down while people searched for her. Around this time, she received the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Stephanie and her family moved to Minot when she was in the 4th grade. Throughout her school years at Bel Air Elementary school, Ramstad Middle School, and Minot High School, Stephanie attended her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, which granted her access to the resource room. This allowed Stephanie to have readers for tests and extra time to finish homework. While attending Minot High, Stephanie had the opportunity to take part in Independence, Inc.’s BEYOND Program. This youth transition program promotes self-advocacy, self-determination, and disability pride. Stephanie enjoyed the program and remembers learning about IEPs, careers, community resources, and support systems.

Stephanie’s participation in the BEYOND Program presented her with an opportunity to attend the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) Youth Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October 2014. She was able to meet peers with similar disabilities and stories. At the APRIL awards banquet, Stephanie remembers, “I did something that I really don’t do, I stood in front of 400 people and handed out IPADS.” She read out names and joked with the audience. Stephanie says, “I didn’t have time to be nervous.”

Stephanie graduated from Minot High School in May 2014. Apart from attending college, Stephanie has been employed at a retail store and is currently working at a coffee shop. She says she likes working because “it’s how you get anywhere.” In the future, Stephanie hopes to work with exotic animals in a zoo. She confesses, “I love snakes.” This summer, Stephanie plans to move to Utah with her family, where she will continue going to college. However, after living in Minot for nine years, Stephanie promises she will be back.

Ultimately, being a person with a disability has opened many doors for Stephanie. She has met new people through participating in the BEYOND program and attending the APRIL conference. Her experiences at the APRIL conference left Stephanie feeling inspired to help people. She feels comfortable telling other people about her disability, and advises, “don’t apologize for your disability.”

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