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Making the Grade, Part 2

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Table games in UVM's Davis Center can get pretty fierce when Sterling Peebles steps up to play.

Reporter Keith McGilvery: Your mom tells me you are quite a pool shark?

Sterling Peebles: Oh I am, I haven't met Paul Newman yet, you hear.

The 29-year-old is getting comfortable on the college campus for the first time.

"I want them, to know that I'm a person," she said. "Treat me for who I am and not what I have."

She has Down syndrome and is one of five students with intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in the university's new Think College program.

Keith McGilvery: What do you think the scariest part of this is?

Sterling Peebles: I am actually here.

Sterling is taking 18 college credits at UVM over the next two years as part of the certificate program.

"It's the right fit because they choose the classes that match my interests, my dreams and my hopes for the future," she said.

Hopes that for Sterling include writing and working with media-- which made freshman English a must on her schedule.

"English 1, even though it has a one on it, is anything but a simple, easy, beginning class," UVM English Professor Jenny Grosvener said.

In Think College the course work is not modified and students study side by side with their nondisabled peers and professors.

"They're fun, they're fresh and they're different," Sterling said.

Jenny Grosvener was Sterling's professor last semester.

"Her wheels were always going, she was that kind of student," Grosvener said.

She was also the type to do all her work.

"She rose to the expectations of that class. We read sophisticated essays, we read Orwell and Grealy," Grosvener said.

Sterling did 47 blogs last semester.

"Yes I did," she said. "I like to push the limits when I have to."

Pushing those limits earned Sterling high marks.

Keith McGilvery: I heard you got a B+ in your English class last semester?

Sterling Peebles: I am guilty on all charges.

It's a grade that's foreign to a fair number of traditional college students-- and one that raises eyebrows of skeptics.

Keith McGilvery: Folks at home are going to watch this story and many will say there is no way someone with Down syndrome can get a B+ in a University of Vermont English class. You say?

Jenny Grosvener: I say yes, absolutely, because I have lived through it. But Sterling worked very hard. She had more drafts than any of the other students and I laid it out right in the beginning. She had more drafts, she did more research, she worked harder to get there, she worked harder to keep herself attentive.

It's hard work with a clear end goal. Think College aims to have its graduates gain employment for 10 or more hours a week at minimum wage or higher in a career they enjoy.

"I want my own production company to work in TV or something in the film business," Sterling said.

Keith McGilvery: You might go after my job then?

Sterling Peebles: No, it's safe.

And while Sterling may not be gunning for my job, she may be changing minds.

"Someone like Sterling in the classroom, not only in the classroom but in our lives, can only add richness because they have a wisdom that we don't have," Grosvener said.

"I just go through life with a positive energy, and a lot of inspiration and motivation behind it," Sterling said.

Motivation that Sterling says could mean UVM may not have seen the last of her once Think College wraps up.

"I might come back to UVM, get my bachelor's degree in fine arts, and hopefully my master's in fine arts some day," Sterling said.

It's a big goal for a special student who wants others to know it's OK to follow their dreams.

"Be who you are and don't be shy," she said. "Live life to its fullest."

For Sterling Peebles it means living life at UVM.

Right now Sterling is working to secure an internship. She would like to do something with a media production company. She is on track to complete Think College in the spring of next year.

Click here for more on the Think College program.

Related Story:

Making the Grade, Part 1

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