District 211 ATP Program Changes Lives Through Creating Opportunities
Three days a week Allison Meehan goes to work. She runs through her morning routines and makes sure she gets herself to work at the local police department on time. Allison, or “A-Team” as her coworkers call her, is always interested in learning new tasks and starts the day’s projects with a smile on her face. Her hard work and love for her community show as she enthusiastically jokes around in the office while breezing through her work. While Allison’s day sounds similar to many, it is how she got there that is truly unique.
Allison also has an intellectual disability that challenges her in her day-to-day life, but she has developed skills to compensate for her challenges through the opportunities and experiences she had while at Palatine High School and in the Adult Transition Program (ATP). The ATP in District 211 does more than teach students important life skills – it creates opportunities for them to experience life through a more independent lens. The focus is on developing student’s self-determination skills so they can live as independently as possible, access community resources, and become full participating members of society. Students participate in a variety of experiences that promote skill development in the areas of recreation and leisure, functional daily living, accessing and navigating their communities, and vocational experiences.
“We are very thankful that there is a program like this to provide different experiences and exposure for her,” said Allison’s mother Amy Meehan. “For her to learn what she likes as a work experience and environment and what she is comfortable with, she really ran the gamut on her experiences.”
Since 2009, ATP has provided specific instruction and community-based experiences to 18-21 year old students like Allison, who have intellectual disabilities. Between District 211’s two ATP locations, an average of 60 students per year, or roughly five percent of the District’s total special education population, are served. For many parents of students in ATP, where their child will go or what they will do when the leave the program is of great concern. Ultimately, the goal in ATP is for students to seamlessly transition from high school to leading adult lives, as independently as possible, with an individualized plan in place.
“We knew ATP was in place when she was in high school,” said Michael Meehan, Allison’s father. “We knew after she graduated she would be in ATP, which was great. We were hoping for a number of experiences she ended up having so she could find her way and see what she was capable of doing. She rose to the top. I believe we could have been a little lost without the support she received.”
The two ATP houses are located at Higgins Education Center in Hoffman Estates (ATP-South) and on the grounds of Palatine High School. The newly constructed building, ATP-North at Palatine High School, was built by District 211 Building Construction students and District 211 maintenance staff in a joint effort. An open house will be held on August 19, 2016, from 4:30-6:00 p.m.
“We are so excited for our students to move into the brand new Adult Transition Program-North building at Palatine High School,” said District 211 Transition Services Coordinator Patrick Abraham. “The construction of this new home for our students is extra special because it was built in partnership by our own D211 Building and Construction classes. By being directly involved in the building of the new ATP at Palatine, these students have in turn helped pave the way for future ATP students to gain an even greater experience each day at school in working towards their individualized Transition goals so they can become contributing members of our local community within which they live.”
Work Experiences and Independence
The opportunities provided in ATP through various in-district and community-based work experiences allow students to work towards becoming individuals who are ready for employment. Prior to the 2009-2010 inception of the program, post-secondary outcomes for this population showed that approximately 25 percent of students exited District 211 with competitive employment or having established linkages to community-based services and resources. Approximately 75 percent exited the school system with no plans for working within the state’s limited work capacity or linkages to post-secondary adult-based community agencies.
Since the inception of the Adult Transition Program, the number of students of this population who have exited District 211 with competitive employment or having established linkages to community-based services and resources has increased significantly. Currently, over 75 percent of ATP students exit the school system with community-based volunteer placements, adult day program placements, supported work placements and/or competitive employment opportunities.
The program’s innovative and individualized curriculum helps students like Allison gain exposure to different aspects of adult life. The Adult Transition Program provides students exiting the program to experience as seamless of a transition as possible and access to linkages for adult services such as Community Alternatives Unlimited (CAU), Division of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), community volunteering, adult day programs, supported work placements and/or competitive employment opportunities.
The ATP facility and program are designed to simulate an independent student’s full day. Some additional learning opportunities ATP students have include participation in work experiences such as the coffee cart service, delivering mail within the school and greeting school visitors at the front desk. Additionally, each student participates in a community-based work training experience. Staff works to align those experiences to students’ areas of interest, as they prepare for their transition from the school setting to adulthood. District 211 has many community business partners, which enables the program to offer a wide array of experiences tailored to individual students’ interests and abilities in industries such as hospitality, retail, fitness, community services and food service.
“The Adult Transition Program helps our students in District 211 with intellectual disabilities and other related disabilities to have opportunities in a variety of work experiences in our community as well continue to develop their daily independent living skills each day,” Abraham said.
In Allison’s experience, she excelled in ATP and was a very quick learner. With opportunities such as work experiences, practicing independent living skills, and social interactions, she has skills that allow her to be more independent in several aspects of her life. During her time in ATP, Allison participated in community-based work experiences at locations such as Innovative Components in Schaumburg, Ikea, and The YMCA. She also learned her likes and dislikes, as well as her strengths, in the work setting. Allison discovered she really likes working with people and would thrive in situations where she had interaction with others. Allison also identified her interest in police work. As Alison prepared to exit the program, a volunteer clerical position with the Palatine Police Department was coordinated as a work experience, which has since led to a paid intern position, where she works three days a week for four hours each day.
Practicing Skills in ATP Houses
A typical day in ATP consists of several different activities and opportunities located at the two ATP locations. In large, the ATP space is an environment that supports the transition from high school student to young adult. The ATP building space allows students to develop and practice skills that are necessary to lead as independent of lives as possible in a supported and safe environment. Students then work to generalize these skills in community-based settings, as they prepare for young adulthood and leading independent lives. Each of the buildings are handicap accessible, including all kitchen appliances, making it is far easier for students who struggle with mobility, gross motor skills and navigating smaller spaces.
Students in ATP spend a portion of their week engaged in recreation & leisure activities. They are encouraged to participate in healthy recreation and leisure activities and to develop lifelong healthy living habits. This is achieved through accessing community-based fitness centers, nature centers, and public libraries. Additionally, connections are made with community-based special recreation programs that offer recreation and leisure actives that are age-appropriate and encourage the continued development of healthy living skills into adulthood.
Students also work on functional daily living skills. Developing functional daily living skills is a fundamental step toward independent adult living. To accomplish this, students participate in a wide-range of activities in the ATP house on a daily basis. Functional daily living skills activities include meal preparation, which in addition to cooking includes meal planning, budgeting, preparing a grocery list, and shopping for groceries.
Students also work to develop household skills, such as vacuuming, washing dishes, doing laundry, taking out the trash, and light home maintenance type tasks such as changing a light bulb or hanging a picture on the wall.
Allison’s mother said she is confident in her daughter’s skill base and abilities to do several tasks around the house. Right now, Allison can make foods such as Ramen Noodles, and she is learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches. She also has helped prepare food for a family gathering.
“Any skill we want her to do, she can do,” said Allison’s mother. “Since Mike and I leave for work, she really is on her own to get herself up. We pick out her clothes the night before, and she has some milk, packs snacks for work, takes her backpack and sweater – even now she is more independent than when she came out of the program.”
To practice various life skills, each ATP house has state of the art amenities and rooms that can simulate an independent living home such as:
- Group Instruction Area
Students use the instructional area for small group pre-and post-community trip planning and review. Students who may need to first learn how to complete a task or job for their community-based work experience might use this space to first learn the skill before generalizing to community-based work experiences. This space also is used for computer-based tasks and small group social skills instruction.
Students have weekly opportunities to plan, purchase and prepare breakfast or lunch. Students also complete regular household chores such as washing and drying dishes, putting away groceries, and sweeping the floor.
- Laundry Room
Students in ATP work on the life skill of using a washer and dryer. In developing this skill, students engage in the activity of laundering a variety of items, including clothing worn during community-based recreational activities, kitchen towels and washcloths. Additionally, some students utilize the ATP laundry rooms as an in-house work experience, as they launder a variety of items for the school, such as athletic uniforms and student work shirts.
- Dining Room
Students use this space each day for breakfast and lunch, which they may prepare on their own, bring from home, or purchase from the student cafeteria. When not in use for breakfast or lunch, students use this space for pre- and post-planning for larger community outings, for full-program meetings and presentations, and for small group work.
- Leisure Area
Students in ATP are not only working on developing their vocational and community skills, but also independent and interactive leisure skills. The leisure skill development occurs both in the community and in-house. Students might choose to engage in leisure activities such as reading a magazine, searching for information on the Internet, socializing with peers, or playing a game.
- Sensory Room
Students are working on learning to use “real life” sensory supports when they may become anxious or upset in any setting. Physical exercise is encouraged not only for healthy living, but also as a practical way to relieve feelings of anxiety, excitement and/or frustration.
Accessing the Community
Outside the ATP house, students are immersed within their communities as they develop skills for independence. Students learn to be better consumers through shopping trips to purchase items for weekly cooking lessons, supplies for the ATP coffee cart, and for their personal needs. While in the community, students develop soft-skills needed for interacting with others in their communities. They rehearse steps needed to access community resources, such as public transportation, the local township office, the post office, and volunteer opportunities. Additionally, students participate in various activities out of school, such as game night or trips to a movie theater, that provide a more collegiate feel to ATP.
“Many students leave Palatine High School and go to work or Harper College, and take the next step,” Abraham said. “Facets of the program allow ATP students to hang out together and do things that young adults their age do.”
District 211 continues to work with local communities to create supports that help students with intellectual disabilities prepare to live more independent lives. The goal is to continue fostering relationships with local businesses to provide more work experiences for students, as well as create a more accessible community. For instance, public transportation is a possible growth area within the community because many students need extra supports while traveling independently.
In the meantime, students who leave the program are continuing to grow their own skillset. Allison’s family hopes that parents who have children with disabilities learn about the ATP program and get their children involved.
“We take a lot of pride in the program and from my lens it is cutting edge what we are doing in our community,” Abraham said. “The Board of Education and Superintendent Cates strongly support students with disabilities, and this program exemplifies that commitment and dedication to our students’ needs. Someone told me this a long time ago – I have adopted it since – I want the first day of every student’s young adult life to look like the last day of their day of their transition. That’s what it’s all about.”