Friday, September 18, 2015

Making Strides Towards Summer Work Accessibility

This week, we'd like to highlight a promising new pilot that was conducted this summer as part of the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program. Through an innovative partnership between RSA, DOES, the Secondary Transition CoP, OSSE, DCPS, and select public charter schools, the first Summer Youth Employment Institute (SYEI) was formed to provide individualized supports and services for youth with disabilities to ensure a meaningful work experience in DC’s SYEP. 

We're excited by the success of this year's SYEI, and look forward to see this model of specialized support for under-served populations continued and replicated within SYEP to maximize meaningful summer work experiences for the  program's 18,000 participants. Read below for more insight into this innovative approach from our friends at SchoolTalk, who conducted this summer's SYEI!

Pilot Background

Working during high school has been found to contribute to positive youth development by increasing career awareness and employment skills, as well as the self-determination capacity necessary for all students to experience long-term, postsecondary success. Unfortunately, for youth with disabilities, especially those with more significant disabilities, accessing meaningful paid work experiences represents a major challenge.

The DC Secondary Transition Community of Practice (CoP), a collaborative group focused on improving postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities in the District of Columbia, recognizes that many DC youth with disabilities face significant barriers to employment, including summer employment. In response to this issue, DC’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and Department of Employment Services (DOES), with support from the Secondary Transition CoP, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and select public charter schools, stepped up to a pilot program designed to provide the supports necessary for youth with disabilities to be successful in the DOES 2015 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). 

Program Description

Through an RSA contract with SchoolTalk, Inc., The DC Summer Youth Employment Institute (SYEI) pilot provided 22 youth from several DCPS and charter schools with the individualized supports and services they needed in order to be successful in DC’s SYEP.

Participating youth began the summer with a weeklong employment preparation boot camp where they engaged in hands-on learning to help them begin to build the self-awareness and soft skills necessary for successful summer employment.

During the six weeks of SYEP, the youth worked at job sites across the city where they and their employers received extensive supports from RSA and SchoolTalk case managers. RSA provided individualized supports and services, including job coaches and assistive technology, while SchoolTalk case managers checked-in regularly with the youth, their employers, and their families, in order to help them problem solve any issues that arose in relationship to the work environment, job tasks, and individual supports and services.

At the conclusion of SYEP, the participating youth came back together for a three day closeout session to reflect on their experiences, and to connect their summer work to their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Plans for Employment (IPEs), and short-term and long-term employment goals.

Impact on Youth

All of the youth experienced increases in their independence, confidence, knowledge and skills related to work and the work environment. Youth demonstrated their growth through the documentation and discussion of their individual employment strengths, preferences, interests, and areas of need, as well as through the development of clear and realistic short- and long-term career goals. Twenty-one of the 22 program participants completed the SYEP portion of the project, and participated in closeout activities.

Three participating youth were also selected to work as youth leaders.  They supported the staff and their peers throughout the course of the pilot program.  Their primary responsibilities included training their peers and staff on assistive technology, helping their peers problem-solve any issues, interviewing their peers for a video project, helping the staff to design and facilitate activities during the close out, supporting their peers in developing presentations about their experiences, and developing presentations for their peers and employers about disability awareness and disclosure. 

Next Steps

Implementation of the SYEI pilot program represents an important step in working towards providing full access to meaningful, summer work experiences for all DC youth with disabilities. RSA and DOES are hoping to expand the program to support at least 50 youth with disabilities during the summer of 2016. The program will continue to identify and work toward eradicating challenges related to youth disability employment including transportation issues, the securing of appropriate and timely workplace accommodations and supports, employer disability awareness, the setting of high expectations, and accessibility to the DC SYEP application and youth portal.

We'd like to thank the partners involved in this year's Summer Youth Employment Initiative for their commitment to ensuring meaningful summer experiences for all District youth, and for their contribution to this blog:
RSA, DOES, the Secondary Transition CoP, OSSE, DCPS, PSCB, and SchoolTalk

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