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Using Community Collaboration to Support Transition-Aged Students

In 2017, the Autism Provider Network of Northwest Ohio conducted a full scope community needs assessment which included a national best practice review, community provider audit, stakeholder focus groups, and an on-line needs assessment distributed to individuals and families. The data collected from this needs assessment clearly indicated poor employment and post-secondary opportunities for students with disabilities. Using this valuable information, nonprofit autism advocacy groups in Northwest Ohio created Venture Bound, a transition to employment program, to assist schools in creating unique and individualized transition programs for their students. The Ohio Longitudinal Transition Study, Spring 2017, concluded that credible predictors of success for students with disabilities were access to general education curriculum more than 80% of the time, work study programs and job training opportunities. This population of students is reported to be struggling in postsecondary education (Murray, Lombardi, & Kosty, 2014). Further evidence to incorporate community collaboration with local employers is based upon research that shows employees with disabilities “report: lower pay levels, job security, and flexibility; more negative treatment by management; and, lower job satisfaction but similar organizational commitment and turnover intention (Schur, Han, Kim, A. et al, 2017).” Recognizing the diverse needs of each student, the NW Ohio community has taken a new approach to supporting their local schools and students with disabilities through the development of Venture Bound.

Kelly Elton, MEd

Kelly Elton, MEd, Executive Director

Venture Bound initially began as a collaborative endeavor between Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism (GLCA) and Bittersweet Inc., both independent 501(C)(3) nonprofit organizations. As the program grew, GLCA took the lead with the program and in January 2018 established Venture Bound as a charitable LLC under GLCA. The collaboration highlights the ability to provide support to local schools implementing the Ohio Employment First, and Evidence Based Predictors for Post School Success according to the National Center on Transition. GLCA fully funded the implementation of Venture Bound in NW Ohio suburban school for the first two years, including the funding of the teacher.

The vision of the program is “To provide young people with the necessary skills, confidence, and support to obtain meaningful and rewarding employment—and recognize them as valuable contributors to the community.” Currently, Venture Bound is in two school districts in NW Ohio, one rural and one suburban. Each school district has identified a teacher to implement the program where as Venture Bound provides curriculum and external supports, such as professional development for teachers, finding job training and volunteer sites. One of the unique factors leading to the successful implementation of the program in schools is due to the local community commitment and support. The Venture Bound Program team makes mindful approaches to the local businesses and nonprofits to engage them into the program at their local high school. The growth of enrollment has increased from 6 in the 2016-2017 school year to 32 in the 2018-2019 school year along with numerous businesses and nonprofits providing additional learning opportunities for the students in their own community. Students are successfully transitioning to post-secondary opportunities and employment.

The collaboration between Venture Bound and each school helps build a transition program which not only supports each student but the district as a whole. A variety of professionals from the community contribute to Venture Bound by serving on its advisory board which is an indicator of successful outcomes from Ohio Employment First Initiative. The advisory board members consist of a Self-Advocate and co-founder of Autism Advantage, three local university professors with differing focuses including Business, Special Education and Occupational Therapy, a local public school special education teacher, a Creative Director from a local marketing firm, and a former executive director of an autism advocacy non-profit. The program directly benefits from each area of expertise of its advisory board members.

Through the collaboration with local universities, existing programs within the schools have been enhanced which has resulted in a decrease in the work load upon the teacher. Most recently, a doctoral student from the University of Toledo’s Occupational Therapy program created an independent living curriculum for the living skills center utilized by both the junior high and high school. This allows educators to document individual mastery of skills by students while creating an opportunity of continuous learning despite the student changing buildings as they progress in grades from junior high to high school.

Additionally, through a unique collaboration with Bowling Green State University (BGSU), Tom Daniels of the Graduate and Executive Business program coordinates a Mock Job Fair for all the students at the end of second semester at BGSU’s, Levis Common’s facility. This collaboration allows the teacher to focus each student’s preparation for interviewing, rather than coordination of the entire event. The degree of which a school can be supported through local high education institutions and professionals is limitless.

The following sentiments of Brittany Joseph, a Venture Bound Advisory board member, is often shared by others. Brittany states “As a college instructor, I have deep concerns about the growing number of students identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in our public schools today and what opportunities lie ahead for them after high school. Volunteering my time to support Venture Bound filled that gap in my heart, knowing that I can make an impact in the lives of students living in my nearby communities. I am motivated by the stories of our students and the obstacles that they have overcome before joining us in the Venture Bound program.”

Venture Bound was created as a three-year program with, ideally, sophomores in high school entering Venture Bound for year one. The program’s curriculum includes Effective Practices for Transition Planning, Education, and Services according to the National Technical Center on Transition which includes Self Determination and Student Participation. The program objectives include students completing two self-reflections weekly and participating in a Likes and Dislikes interactive activity once a week. The first semester exam project has the students completing a Student Led Meeting slide presentation. At the end of Venture Bound One, students will complete a Person Centered Plan for their adult life. Venture Bound One (Introduction/The Basics) focuses on Self Advocacy, Self Determination, Financial Literacy, Completing Applications, Independent Living, Setting Goals, Safety, Actions & Consequences in the Workplace and Accommodations in the Workplace. In order to prepare students for employment and based upon research where increased exposure to job trainings enhances post-secondary outcomes, Venture Bound Two (Supported Exploratory) focuses on students are learning “how to work” at a job training or volunteer site, Direct Instruction in Independent Living, Completing Applications, Creating a Resume & Portfolio. Venture Bound Three (Independent Employment) focuses on Independent, Competitive Employment. If a student requires more supports and training before entering Year Three, individualized opportunities to continue working towards their transition goals will be offered in Venture Bound Two. Within each year of the program, the curriculum is able to be individualized for each student, thus promoting the overall mission, “To help young people with cognitive and/or social challenges prepare for successful and sustainable employment.” The program’s success is completely dependent upon the collaboration with its community. At a time when the workload for each teacher increases, the community begins to compliment the teacher and their efforts by providing invaluable resources in which students succeed.

If you are interested in learning more about developing a community of collaboration in your area, please contact Kelly Elton at 419-509-0707 or kelly@venturebound.org. Visit our website at http://www.venturebound.org.

References

Baer, R., Kaschak, S., McMahan Queen, R., Daviso, A., Szymanski, A. (2017). The Ohio longitudinal transition study: Annual state report on transition. Ohio Department of Education, Office of Exceptional Children.

Murray, C., Lombardi, A., & Kosty, D. (2014). Profiling adjustment among postsecondary students with disabilities: A person-centered approach. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(1), 31-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035777

Schur, Han, Kim, A. et al, (2017). Disability at Work: A Look Back and Forward. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. December 2017, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 482–497 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10926-017-9739-5.

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