• A Year of Learning

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 5/11/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Wow!  It is hard to believe that this school year is almost over.  When I accepted this assignment with the INSPIRE program, I knew that it would definitely be a year of firsts for me!  These included first published articles, first INSPIRE Orientation, first Advisory team meetings, first INSPIRE 100 class preparations, and first Johnson County Transition team meetings...I think you get the idea!  The cliche “I learned so much”, is really an understatement with regard to this past year.

    The one person who made my first year so much easier is Alisha Webb.  She has been with the INSPIRE program from the very beginning and has been very patient with my learning curve as I was the 3rd or 4th teacher she has worked with over the past five years.  

    I cannot say enough about Franklin College and their welcoming attitude, not only for me, but for our students who each have their own quirks and challenges.  The students here seem to just “go with the flow”, and really come to love our students and many of them become lifelong friends with our students. It is heartwarming to see firsthand how these friendships blossom, all on their own.  The staff at Franklin College truly love our students. Not a day goes by that I do not see someone who I have never seen before, say “Hi” or give a fist bump to one of our students.

    Some of the things I learned this year are: 1) the ins and outs of Certificate of Completion; 2) what the words “pre-ets” mean; 3) how Vocational Rehab (VR) works and what they do for our students; 4) how important it is to really plan with fidelity a transition plan for every student; 5) how enjoyable it is to get to know students on a different (adult) level; and 6) how to plan lessons for students who need real life skills (e.g., budgeting, cooking, shopping).  My learning journey has only just begun because I have the amazing opportunity to learn from the best this summer, as a member of the Leadership Development Program in Work-Based Learning at Purdue University. I will be spending 10 days this summer on campus in a program designed to assist local agency personnel to improve and expand career and technical programs for special needs youth and adults.

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Opportunity for Independence

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 4/20/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Here at INSPIRE, we continually encourage our students to strive for independence. Recently, some of our INSPIRE students, along with parents, had the opportunity to visit the Erskine Green Training Institute in Muncie, Indiana. Erskine Green gives persons with disabilities with the minimum age of 18 the opportunity to gain meaningful employment through postsecondary training opportunities. These opportunities are presented in various settings such as a hotel, a restaurant, and a hospital.

    While at Erskine Green, our students learned that if they chose to attend this program, not only would they receive job skill training, they would also have the opportunity to live independently by themselves or with a roommate, at the Courtyard Muncie Hotel.  Our INSPIRE program also promotes job skill training for our students, but Erskine Green presents a unique opportunity to achieve something more. The opportunity to live away from home is something that many of our 18 - 22 year old students desire. Erskine Green provides a safe and supported environment that fosters life-readiness.

    Erskine Green focuses on preparing students for real world experiences by providing them necessary tools such as knowledge of public transit, fitness mentors, resume building, community outings, life skills coaching, and a fun/well-rounded student experience. The each program ranges from

    10 - 13 weeks, depending on which program they select. The students are closely supported during their stay. Through assessments, the students gain independence and the ability to explore the community without direct supervision. The goal of Erskine Green is to not only prepare the students to be job-ready, but life-ready as well.

    Both INSPIRE parents and students were thoroughly impressed at the possibility for their student to gain independence through Erskine Green’s whole-person approach. The parent take away from the day was hopeful and encouraged by the chance for an empowered and meaningful life for their student. Everyone ended their day feeling very INSPIRE-d.

    For more information, visit www.erskinegreeninstitue.org

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Mental Health and Transitioning to Adulthood

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 4/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    There has been much discussion in the media lately about mental health issues in our society.  Some students with disabilities have mental health issues that become more prominent during the transition to adulthood.  These students do not always have the skills to communicate what they are feeling about making the transition from HIgh School to adult life, because of these skill deficits, anxiety levels can increase and other mental health issues may also spike.

    Lori Desautels, Ph.D. has written extensively on the effects that both the brain and mental health have on learning. In her blog post, she lists seven guidelines for secondary educators that support emotional and mental health as students transition to adulthood.  We try to expand upon these guidelines by asking ourselves what can we do as educators/role models do to ease the transition into adulthood?

    • Model the behaviors we want to see---model and teach calming exercises to help with anxiety
    • Tap into the strengths, passions, and expertise of all students---most recently an example of doing this was when we had our INSPIRE students create a healthy lunch menu, find recipes, make a list of ingredients/supplies, shop for the items, and cook the food.  Best of all, they got to eat what they cooked! We divided the students into different groups, based on their strengths, passions, and expertise.
    • Give students choices/input into developing rules, consequences, guidelines, and class structure. We are working on healthy lessons that the students will develop and present to their classmates, the topic of healthy living was idea they came up with and they are leading the lessons.
    • Providing safe and fair boundaries are important---especially as our students get older, if we expect them to behave as the young adults they are, we have to start treating them as such.  We give our INSPIRE students the room grow, within the structure of the college environment.
    • We need to teach students (at their level) about the brain, so they can understand why they are feeling and acting differently.  They need to know that things they are thinking and feeling at this age are normal. We use a curriculum called “Circles” to help guide our students through these changes and feelings.
    • Teach them how to calm their stress through focused attention---if they have not already learned how to recognize when they are stressed we can help with that and model ways to calm that stress.
    • Finally, we as educators know that the more we know about our students, the better---if we can spend time with our students, understand what “makes them tick”, the student then knows that they have someone in their lives that cares about them.  This time in their lives can be very confusing, you can be the adult whom they can turn to, asking questions without judgement. This just may be what they need to get through this challenging time in their lives.

     Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Abilities, Not "Dis" Abilities

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 3/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Challenges that we as educators face when we are transitioning our students to the job site are many.  We are challenged to make sure our student is successful by providing them with the necessary tools and supports, but we are also challenged with making sure the job site does not coddle our students.  Teachers could create an expectation guide to remind employers and their staff of appropriate interactions with the new employee. Some examples would be to give a verbal or visual reminder, but not to do the task for them, and your new employee is an adult staff member, so treat them as such.  No hugging, use adult verbiage, etc.

    When we prepare a job site for our student, we should be familiar with the person in charge, and what tasks our student will be performing.  Once we have established what they will be doing, we need to know what supports our student needs to accomplish their tasks. Once the supports are in place, we are ready to introduce our student to the job site! This can be a very exciting time for students who have never worked before, and even for their caregivers who may have never imagined their student would have a job.  

    Refer back to my article from February 9th, to make sure potential obstacles to employment have been resolved.  When the first day of work arrives, make sure you and the student are on time! The supervisor at the job site should go over the tasks and any safety issues. Then it is time to get to work. Depending on the extent of your student’s disability, you may need to model how to complete the tasks.

    You know your student the best, and therefore you must determine if you need to be by their side, or just in the area.  As your student and the staff get more comfortable with the tasks and the surroundings, you should be able to pull back your support.  Your goal should be independence! Once your student gains some independence, a trap that some employers fall into is doing too much the worker because they have a disability.  Make sure the employer, as well as the employees, know that your students are capable of so much more than some people give them credit for!

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Public Transportation for Your Students

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 2/23/2018 7:00:00 AM



    I am a firm believer that we need to empower Transition Students to access Public Transportation.  While many students are comfortable with school buses they are less experienced with options such as Access Johnson County or IndyGo.  INSPIRE students spent last Thursday planning how they would go from Franklin College to the City Market in Indianapolis.  This was a very challenging process for some of our students.  As a group they had to figure out how they would individually come from their home communities, Trafalgar, Greenwood, Franklin, Indianapolis, and Greenfield, and then get on  Access to ride to Greenwood Park Mall which would take them to the Indianapolis City Market.  They practiced some flexible thinking and decided they needed to change a few of the normal commutes, to  come together at the Franklin Walmart then ride Access to the Greenwood Park Mall with enough time to catch the IndyGo bus and make it to downtown Indy for lunch.  

    Once they had that hurdle solved they worked together to come up with a plan!  We armed them with advice, maps, and knowledge then they spread their wings to fly!  When the day came to execute our plan, it brought warm/rainy weather.  One student had already called to say they were sick, one student overslept and missed the bus, but we were armed with knowledge and our umbrellas, we left from Franklin College to head to the Franklin Walmart.  

    Everyone arrived at Walmart on schedule, and we were off to Greenwood! We got to the mall on schedule, and then the process to get our group on the IndyGo bus and pay for each trip individually was a process, but the IndyGo driver was very kind.  One student only had a ten dollar bill (it cost $1.75 with no change returned), so staff paid for his trip. A few minutes later, we were headed to Indianapolis.  The ride was uneventful, and we arrived at the Transit Center in good shape.  As we stepped off the bus in Indy, the rain started coming down in buckets!  A few of us had umbrellas, others did not, but it did not phase anyone.  One rather tall student tried to get under the umbrella of staff and a student who were quite a bit shorter, it was rather comical...  We got to the City Market, had a variety of lunches, as well as a trip to the coffee bar.  Our return trip to Greenwood went well, except the IndyGo bus had to make numerous stops, which put them behind schedule for us to get back to the Mall and Franklin College.  Access was kind enough to wait on us, which put their own schedules behind.  We made it back to our planned return points, and a long successful day came to an end.  Our students are now armed with information and a plan, they can get from southern Johnson County to downtown Indianapolis, without expecting their parents/siblings/friends to provide transportation!  Empowerment is a beautiful thing!

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • My Child Got a Job, Now What?

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 2/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

    As a parent, one of the things you are always trying to do is make sure your child contributes to society in a positive way.  This could mean going to college, going to a vocational school, joining the armed services, or just getting a job!  What if the child has intellectual disabilities?   Can he/she still make a positive contribution to society? Of course they can! If they do not continue their formal education, they may be getting a job, as well as continuing in public school until they reach 22 years old. Making sure they have a positive first job experience can be a big self-esteem booster for teens with learning and attention issues. We as parents/caregivers want to prepare them for success.  The following steps can lead to a smoother transition to the working world:

    • Practice the trip to the job site.  Try to do this on the same day/time they will be working.  If they are taking public transportation, practice this as well, so they are comfortable in their surroundings.  A good idea would be to time the trip, so that you know when you should leave home to get to work on time.
    • If your student is going to be working all day, make sure you plan ahead for lunch!  If they want to bring their lunch, you need to know if there is a place to store it.  If they are going to buy  lunch, make sure there will be time to order/eat.
    • Determine who needs to be contacted if the employee/student is not feeling well or running late?  Make sure they know the phone number or email address of that person.
    • How does the company communicate schedule changes?  If there is a new schedule posted each week, make sure your student knows where to find it.  It may help if they have a phone, so they could take a picture of it and text it to you!  It is a good idea to make a plan on what day of the week they will get a new schedule, so they could put a reminder in their phone to check on it.
    • Talk to your student about what plan they should have to get to work on time.  Should they lay out clothes the night before, if they are packing a lunch, should they do that the night before?  These are teachable time management skills.
    • If your student is still in high school, they will need to fill out a work permit, and they get that from the office in their high school.  These have to be filled out by the student and the high school staff, BEFORE they can start working.  Additionally, there will also be IRS paperwork to fill out for tax purposes.
    • Some businesses now require their employees to get paid by direct deposit, instead of by paycheck.  If this is the case for your student, they will need to open a bank account.  If they are under 18 years old, the bank may require an adult to be a joint signer on the account.  If they do not need to have an account for direct deposit, they may need to open an account, just so they can cash their checks.
    • If your student is no longer in school, they may be less busy than what they are used to being, so planning something for their down time, may be beneficial.  These activities will also help them learn more time management skills by having activities and work in the same day!
    • Make sure to teach your students to advocate for themselves!  If they did not learn this in school, there is no better time than now.  They need to know who to talk to if they have a question or concern, it is not always going to be the manager, it may be an assistant manager or shift leader.
    • If all the suggestions above seem overwhelming to you or your student, you may consider enlisting the assistance of a Job Coach through Vocational Rehabilitation.  Transition planning can/should be done in IEP meetings leading up to your student’s exit from high school.

    All of the above can seem pretty overwhelming, but if you follow the steps to prepare your student work the working world, it feels really good to know that your student has taken another step toward adulthood and independence.

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Youth Transition Services

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 1/26/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Do you know a young adult with a disability who is almost 18 years old, has an idea of what they want to do with their life, but they doesn’t know how to accomplish it?  I think that sentence describes many of our young adults, not just ones with disabilities!  There is a disability rights organization that serves Johnson County, called accessAbility.  They provide FREE advocacy services to young adults and adolescents with disabilities who are transitioning from school to independent living or employment.  The goal of this company is to have the young adult living their version of independence, by fostering a community of acceptance, respect, and inclusion.  No less than 51% of the staff of this organization/governing board are people with disabilities, so they understand this population and their needs through their own experiences.  

    There are various ways to to utilize the resources at accessAbility.  The service that is usually the shortest in duration is called Information and Referral services.  This service is used to help an individual connect with the resources they need.  It is also used to make sure information relating to rights, options, issues and resources are available to any individual in need of these services.

    This organization also maintains a database of local, state, and national disability related information, used to assist young adults with disabilities acquire/strengthen personal living skills and service supports they need to maintain their level of independence. These services may include education/training in several areas including personal care, coping, financial management, social skills, and household management.  

    Another important service that accessAbility provides is assisting with, and teaching, the skills needed to navigate complex disability programs and laws.  Not all persons with disabilities know how to exercise their basic rights and responsibilities or know how to self-advocate when necessary.  

    The above services are just a few of the services that accessAbility provides!  They provide transition services, youth services (including peer support), assistive technology services, mobility training, and community support services. Be sure to check out their website at www.abilityindiana.org to see details about the many other services they provide---FREE of charge!

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Soft Skills

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 1/12/2018 7:00:00 AM

    What are “soft skills”? The dictionary (no, I did not look in a book form, I googled it) says it is a noun, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people”.  This is something I believe we all can work to improve throughout our lives.  

    Communication skills consistently rank among the top skills employers look for in a new employee.  Helping your students improve communication skills will not only help them gain or keep a job, it will help them advance in their careers.  There are several ways to help your student work on “soft skills”, and they will not always know you are doing it! Most people have smartphones that are capable of videotaping.  If you do not have one, or do not know how to use that feature, just ask your students!  Record them giving directions for doing something they are good at doing.  It could be a video game or cooking something in the microwave.  Review the video with them?  Does it pass the stranger test?  Could you follow along with what they said and play the game, or cook the food?  Could you understand what they were saying?  

    Another way to help your student build soft skills is to encourage them to participate in school activities.  An organization that many schools have is called Best Buddies.  Check them out if your school has a chapter!  You may need to sit down and discuss with your student that different settings may require different types of communication.  The way they talk with their friends or family, will most likely be different than the way they talk in the workplace.  If the student does have difficulty enunciating clearly, their friends and family may be used to it and can still understand what they are trying to say.  This is not always the case in the workplace.  Parents/caregivers/teachers can help students who have difficulties with speaking clearly by making sure they regularly use the communication skills they have been taught.  If your student struggles with speaking clearly, make sure they have job-related phrases programmed into their augmentative communication device, if they use one.  These could be as simple as “How may I help you?” or “I do not know the answer, but I will find out for you.”

    Encourage your student to have conversations with family and friends, because they also need to develop good listening skills as well.  One of the easiest ways for parents/teachers to help with this skill is to model it for them! Pay attention to who is speaking, ask questions, repeat what they said in the form of a question.  Also, when giving the student directions, have them repeat the instructions in their own words.  Lastly, consider the accommodations your student may use in school.  If they use them in school, they can easily be modified to help them in the workplace as well!

    Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • VR and Order of Selection

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow -Hill on 12/8/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services are required for individuals who qualify.  Eligibility is based on the following Federal guidelines:

    1. individual has physical or mental impairments;  
    2. impairment results in a substantial impediment to employment;
    3. individual requires VR services to prepare for, secure, retain,  advance in or regain employment; and
    4. individual can benefit from VR in terms of employment outcome.

    Currently, Indiana VR is experiencing a deficit of resources, so it has been forced to employ an Order of Selection strategy.  The Order of Selection process, which prioritizes consumer services,  is used to ensure that individuals with the most severe disabilities are served first.  Even though Indiana VR has to use the Order of Selection process, they are still taking new referrals to schedule intake appointments for completion of the application process. VR determines the level of severity for eligible individuals, and then the priority category is identified.  VR will provide written notification to the student of their eligibility determination.  There are three priority categories:

    • priority category 1 is for the individual with the most significant disability;
    • priority category 2 is for individuals with a significant disability;
    • priority category 3 is for all other eligible individuals with a nonsignificant disability.  

    VR closed categories 2 and 3 as of August 1st, 2017 when Order of Selection was implemented. VR will provide information about other resources to those who find themselves in one of the closed categories. When sufficient resources become available, individuals in Category 2 will be prioritized based on the earliest application date. If a student with a disability has already started services in Category 2 or 3 prior to the Order of Selection, they may continue to receive those services.  If they had not already started services, they may not receive services until their turn for receipt comes up under the state guidelines.  VR will ensure that when an individual is placed in a closed category, they will receive pre-employment training services (Pre-ETS) as soon as those services become available.  Core Pre-ETS services include: job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling regarding postsecondary education or comprehensive transition opportunities, workplace readiness training to develop social skills/independent living, and instruction in self-advocacy.

     Lisa  Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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  • Compliant Transition IEP: Secondary

    Posted by Lisa Whitlow-Hill on 11/17/2017 7:00:00 AM

    How can secondary teachers make sure they are writing a compliant transition IEP?  There is a great resouce called the Indiana Transition Requirements Checklist: https://instrc.indiana.edu/pdf/resources/Transition%20IEPChecklist%202015-16.pdf

    Mark “Y” on each of these ten items, and you will have a successful transition IEP.  The first item listed is asking whether or not there is evidence that the student was invited to the case conference.  This task is simple to prove compliance--make sure the student is in the IEP meeting invite! The second item listed, making sure secondary goals are measurable.  This item is a little trickier, because you have to make sure there are measurable goals in the areas of education, employment and independent living.  Some of the questions that need to be answered are will the goal(s) occur after the student transitions from school and are the goals appropriate for this student?  The next item is aimed at making sure the transition assessments are authentic.  Authentic assessments put the focus on what is naturally occurring in a student’s life, classroom, or building.  We want students to be engaged in transition planning and in order to do that, the process needs to be about them! Some of the places that authentic assessments come from are community-based instruction, work experiences, recreation/leisure activities, etc. Postsecondary goals is next on the checklist, these goals need to be updated and/or discussed annually.

    The fifth step is a simple question, if the discussion about this area has already happened---it is checking whether the student is pursuing a high school diploma or a certificate of completion.  Discussion around this topic should be documented in the IEP.  The sixth item on the checklist is making sure there are relevant and measurable  transition goals that are related to the student’s transition needs.  Some of the things that should drive a measurable annual goal are the present levels of performance, barriers (needed skills), strengths/preferences, and alignment to postsecondary goal statements. These measurable goals need to support Transition based on their postsecondary goals.  Goals that are titled “transition” are no longer needed, since all measurable annual goals are aligned to support one of the postsecondary goal areas.  These transition goals need to be skill specific, addressing those significant (specific) barriers a student is facing.  

    Step number seven is verifying that the transition services in the IEP will enable the student to meet their secondary goals. Everything in this IEP should focus on the student meeting their postsecondary goals, so the checklist keeps circling back to that item.  The eighth checklist item is simple to verify, it is asking if the appropriate representatives of any agency working with the student or that make be working with the student in the future are invited to the meeting.  These folks need to be involved in the planning of the services so that services are appropriate for the postsecondary goals of the student.  The ninth item on the checklist is making sure that the transition services include a course of study that may be needed to improve academic or functional achievement, based again on their postsecondary goals.  The final item on the checklist is a simple question to verify if all the previous questions have been marked as a “yes”, if they have, you have a compliant transition IEP! Success!!

    Lisa Lisa Whitlow-Hill, INSPIRE Coordinator

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