She Can and She Will: How a Sophomore High School Student REACH(es) for Success

Caroline Kurdej
Post by Caroline Kurdej
February 10, 2021
She Can and She Will: How a Sophomore High School Student REACH(es) for Success

By Caroline Kurdej

“Can you interview me for your blog?” Jackie asked. For my master thesis at Northwestern, I wrote stories on Olympians who were adapting their training and postponing their lives for another year. Tokyo 2020 dreams are on hold, and athletes have grown increasingly creative amid the pandemic’s restlessness to qualify for the XXXII Olympiad. 

Like Sandi Morris, the Olympic pole vault silver medalist and American indoor record holder, I wrote about for NBC Sports

“How about we tie in your love of sports with your love of learning?” I asked. I’ve known Jackie since birth, and I’m invested in witnessing her achieve her goals.

Jackie Corless is a current sophomore at Barrington High School in Illinois. Besides earning a 3.938 GPA this past semester, she competes in Special Olympics basketball, track, and soccer. When she’s not running up and down the court or field, she’s singing with her choir family. Together, they make up Jackie’s greater sense of community, love, and support.

As Capsim’s content strategist, I speak with educators and students who use our products to change the educational landscape. I’m always on the lookout for neat use cases and ways to highlight stories. Jackie got my gears turning.

Jackie has two more years to prepare before she embarks on one of the most incredible journeys of her life. A proactive simulation could prepare Jackie for college success at University of Iowa’s REACH (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) program. I needed to dig deeper to discover more of Jackie’s story. 

Breaking Barriers and Defying Low Expectations

Throughout her life, people told Jackie she’s limited with her disability. “Not many places allow for special needs kids to get hired, you won’t go to college, blah blah blah,” Jackie shared. 

She chose to dismiss them. 

When she joined Special Olympics, Jackie shared many of the students at her school may have realized, “there are kids in our school excluded from real life.” 

Jackie was one of them. It wasn’t until she joined Special Olympics that her high school experience took a turn for the better. Now she has a group of friends that’s her “biggest crowd.” This past year, she’s been able to achieve many of her goals.

For the first time in her life, she wrote a two-page paper, and she comprehended The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in her English class. She has the A’s on her report card to prove it.

With hybrid learning this year at school and seven siblings at home, there’s always some action going on. Jackie’s great at responding to texts, but when it comes to email, that’s when things become a little more challenging.

Many people told Jackie she wouldn’t be able to go to college. And at one point, she believed them.

A New Chapter Comes with New Challenges

Now that I knew the challenges Jackie faced in high school, I needed to discover the obstacles that awaited her in a potential future at University of Iowa’s REACH program. 

The college transition brings its challenges. Many students struggle to adapt to living with roommates, navigating through new social situations, prioritizing coursework, and career preparation. College is an opportunity to make independent decisions in a new environment.

I had the opportunity to speak with Adam Miller, a Senior Program Specialist at UI REACH, to discover the most significant obstacles he sees his students struggling with when they first enter the program. The scope was enormous–and Adam shared different categories of struggles. Some students are phenomenal in social skills but struggle significantly in career preparation–like applying for jobs or acing interviews. Others blow academics out of the water but struggle immensely with the social aspect of their college experiences. 

I wanted to leverage the CapsimInbox Authoring Platform, an email simulation that immerses learners in authentic scenarios, to develop and assess essential skills and recreate a day in the University of Iowa REACH student’s life. 

The environment at the University of Iowa will be different from Barrington High School–and so will the challenges Jackie will face. After my conversation with Adam, I realized we needed a more tailored approach, and fast. 

The clock was ticking–so I got building. 

A Big 10 College Experience in 10 Minutes

UI REACH (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) is a comprehensive transition program for students ages 18-25 with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities. The program offers an integrated college experience in a caring and structured environment.

Jackie is ecstatic to apply for the program in two years as a high school senior. But she also had initial reservations. 

Now that I spoke with Jackie and Adam and conducted my research, I was in a spot to start building out a 10-minute demo experience with many of the challenging scenarios Jackie has faced in her real life.

Real-Life Challenges in the Context of a Safe Environment

CapsimInbox proactively prepares students for real-world challenges by recreating them in a simulated environment.

The CapsimInbox experience assesses skills like independence, critical thinking, and email etiquette in scenarios Jackie has been exposed to. 

Adam mentioned that while many UI REACH students may have had buddies and pals in high school, many of those friendships are contained inside the school walls. 

That’s where Christopher Robinan emphatic character looking to build a friendship with the learner in the simulationentered CapsimInbox.  What starts as a group movie outing invitation evolves to tie in prioritization, budgeting, and time management skills.

Change can be difficult for us all. It’s particularly challenging for students who rely upon crucial people to build their routines. Jackie’s case manager is someone who supports her in her daily academic and curriculum goals. And those extending further into the future–like applying to UI REACH.

“The example email you provided with the maternity leave was pretty funny. My case manager is pregnant, my choir teacher’s wife is pregnant, and my math teacher’s wife is pregnant,” Jackie said.

When Jackie found out her case manager is expecting, she began worrying. Capsim’s simulations prepare students by throwing them into situations before they happen to gauge reactions and guide stronger soft skill development for the future.

“I just wasn’t sure if I was going to be capable, mature, or ready enough to move toward something like UI REACH,” Jackie said. “CapsimInbox assured me that I am ready for anything that comes my way. I’m ready!”

Aspiring Toward Career Goals

One of the emails in the simulation takes learners to a career aptitude test. Like Jackie, some students come into college with a specific idea of what their dream future entails. In her case, she yearns to be a teacher’s assistant.

She’s passionate about learning and loves people. So it would be a great fit. Exposing students to Holland Code personality types and various professions can strengthen students’ career well-being and job satisfaction in the future. 

The CapsimInbox Authoring Platform creates engaging, personalized learning to propel students toward success in the classroom and well beyond graduation.

Experience a Day in the Life of a UI REACH Student.

Do you resonate with Jackie’s story? Try out a day in the life of a UI REACH student for yourself here.

Or, Write Your Own Story.

Our CapsimInbox Authoring Platform is free for all. Make your story come to life today by visiting our website. 

Hesitant about getting started? Send an email to, and she’ll help you embark on your journey. 

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