It was all smiles and enthusiasm Thursday as five students and about 20 guests gathered to mark the end of the school year and completion of the first year of the Elevate Program for developmentally delayed students.

The event was celebrated with an indoor picnic and awards ceremony at Navarro College in Waxahachie. A lunch of fried chicken and all the fixings was donated by Midlothian merchants and the chocolate pie was the hit of the afternoon with everyone.

The Elevate Program is designed for students with cognitive and learning disabilities. Offered through Navarro College, it guides developmentally-delayed students to self-sufficiency and independence. Students are challenged to reach for knowledge and provided opportunities for success on campus and at work. The pilot program through Midlothian ISD is expected to expand next year to include the Ennis, Red Oak and Waxahachie ISDs. The participating school district determines student eligibility.

The Midlothian students recognized at the celebration were Lauren Arens, Alison Culpepper, Travis Horton, Caleb McNamara and Chelsea Sims.

“Special ed students can remain in the district until they are 21 to 22 years old. Our guys turn 18 and have been in school forever taking the same stuff. Off campus they can interact in a less restrictive environment with people their own age,” said Elevate Program instructor MeLissa Boler.

The program focuses on improving work-related reading and communication skills. Students spend half a day learning basic computer skills and developing employment and job search skills and upon completion of all courses students receive a continuing education certificate. The other half of the student’s day is spent at a community-based vocational training worksite or paid employment position. All students strive for the goal of paid employment and attaining independence.

Five MISD students are participating in the pilot program. The district pays for the college courses and provides transportation for students. They are still technically in high school so they’re still on the rolls in the district, Boler said.

“It’s a two-year program so they are receiving a certificate of completion for this year – but will come back next year. It gives them something tangible of their progress and success,” Boler said. “Because special ed students are confined to campus longer than traditional students, their educational growth becomes stagnant. We are seeing exponential social and academic growth with this class.”

Dena Culpepper said this year has been a wonderful experience for her daughter Alison, a student in the program. The family was approached by MISD about the Navarro program after she graduated in 2009.

“Alison has enjoyed the program and learned so much. Her social skills have improved. She is embracing being a college student and the kids at Navarro have really embraced them,” Culpepper said.

Each student received a card of congratulations from Jeannette Campos, librarian at the Navarro College Waxahachie campus.

“The kids are just wonderful and it’s a pleasure to have them come into the library,” she said.

Kristin Walker, director of continuing education at Navarro, said they are thrilled to have the students at the campus and the college is committed to the growth and success of the program.

Boler extended her thanks to everyone who contributed to the success to the students.

“I am so proud of the parents. It takes a lot to let someone try something new. Thank you all for making this successful,” Boler said.

Food for the event was generously donated by Midlothian merchants: Brookshire’s, Chicken Express, KFC, Church’s Chicken, Caroline’s Country Cafe, Dee Tee’s Restaurant and Bar B-Q Junction.

Contact Rebecca at or call 469-517-1451.