School in the Real World

There was a time when 18-year-old Avery loathed high school. For him, the traditional school setting was boring and pointless. Avery, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome, longed for a learning experience that was hands-on with training in the real world.

Avery found what he was looking for this fall when he became one of eight students in the inaugural class of the Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnership (STEP). The new program is designed to improve employment outcomes for youths with developmental disabilities through a partnership between Columbia Public Schools, ACT, Vocational Rehabilitation, Boone Hospital Center and Boone County Family Resources. 

While many young adults with developmental disabilities successfully complete high school and find employment, STEP alternatively gives them real-world experience with the added benefit of an instructor who guides participants through vocational training that satisfies the students’ high school credit and prepares them for jobs. The program takes place at Boone Hospital where participants attend Monday through Friday during the school year.

For Avery, STEP is a window to a new world of possibilities. The experience is changing his attitude about his own abilities.

“He really seems to have a new, positive outlook on working and better understands what qualities a good employee embodies,” said Jamie Short, a Community Skills Specialist with BCFR’s Life & Work Connections program. “He is learning more work skills every day that he can take with him once he begins his search for community employment.”

STEP participants start in a classroom at Boone Hospital Center

where instructors from Columbia Public Schools and ACT discuss skills they will need to live and work in the community. Next, the students begin internships at Boone Hospital, some of which are in food service and the linen department. While on the job, each participant receives individual instruction to help them build practical work skills such as being prompt, working with a team, communicating with co-workers and bosses, setting goals and managing their time.

Eventually, that oversight is phased out and the students become more independent in their jobs. Toward the end of the program, each participant receives a job assessment as well as guidance in securing a job in the community by the end of the school year.

Avery, who has been working in the linen department, is thrilled with the experience and eagerly arrives each school day.

“The people here are nice,” he said. “I really like coming and being around all the people.”

Avery enjoys the active learning environment, which allows him to physically move around and talk with co-workers. Unlike his experience in traditional school, Avery sees how his involvement with STEP is directly tied to his future.

“I hope to get life and work experience,” he said.

Students selected for the STEP program must provide letters of recommendation and meet a long list of criteria, including being a student with Columbia public schools, a client of BCFR and needing vocational development. Ultimately, a selection committee comprised of representatives from each of the member agencies decides on the participants.

 Renee Carter, a Client Skills Coordinator with BCFR’s Life & Work Connections program, said Avery is a great example of how the STEP program can brighten the lives of its participants by preparing them for futures in which they are as independent as possible, living and working in the community