DC Public Schools


Organization Profile: The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Competitive Employment Opportunity (CEO Program) provides opportunities for students with disabilities to develop the skills needed to reach their postsecondary education and career goals. The program is open to high school students in the District of Columbia on the diploma track who have a diagnosed disability and receive accommodations through an Individualized Education Program. The CEO Program consists of three academies, the Pre-employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Academy for 9th and 10th graders, the Mentoring and Internship Academy for 11th and 12th graders, and the EXIT Academy for 12th graders. While in one of the academies, students explore careers related to their interests and learn about the skills needed to enter those careers. Students develop career planning and management skills to help them prepare to enter the workforce. In addition, students spend time learning about the resources available in the community and financial literacy skills in preparation for life after high school. Students in the Mentoring and Internship Academy participate in an 80-hour internship in their career field of interest to further develop their career readiness skills. After the CEO Program, students have reported greater confidence in their ability to find a job in their career field of interest after high school.

Program Structure/Design: The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Competitive Employment Opportunity (CEO Program) is a collection of three academies that assist high school students with disabilities with developing the skills needed to reach their postsecondary education and employment goals. All learning sessions take place at the National Youth Transitions Center (NYTC) on the George Washington University campus. The program operates from January through May with an end of the year celebration in June. Each academy meets once a week from 4:30-6:30 pm. Students are paid for the time that they participate in the program, both for classroom sessions and internship hours, based on the current minimum wage in the District of Columbia. For the 2017-2018 school year, students will receive $11.50 per hour.

The Pre-employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Academy is for students who are in 9th and 10th grades. Students travel independently to the NYTC for classroom sessions once a week after school. Classroom learning sessions for each academy are led by a workforce development coordinator. In addition to teaching classroom sessions, the coordinator takes students on trips in the community, arranges guest speakers for the classroom sessions, and communicates with families. The Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Academy focuses on both preparing for careers and developing community awareness. The academy has three components: exploration, identification, and implementation. In the exploration component, students learn about different career fields and determine which careers might fit their interests. Exploration takes place both in the classroom, through coordinator-led activities and the visits of guests from a variety of career fields, and through trips around the community. Students also learn about their communities, identifying needs and community resources in order to understand their role as a community member and to explore opportunities for community advocacy. In the identification component, students identify a short-term and long-term career of interest in addition to the skills needed for these careers, and they develop a plan to reach these careers. During implementation, students learn practical career readiness skills, such as how to write a cover letter and resume as well as how to fill out applications and federal forms such as the W-9. Students also practice interpersonal skills for the workforce setting such as how to introduce themselves and communicate in the workplace. Class outings to a variety of places, such as the local soup kitchen and the Kennedy Center, also allow students the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned in the classroom. Students work with their workforce development coordinator to develop skills including articulating their long-term career goal and advocating for themselves in their IEP meetings. Through the use of a community lens, students not only learn about possible careers and explore careers of interest, but they also learn about the needs of their community and the role that they might play in being a supportive member of their community. The Pre-ETS program pulls lessons both from available curriculum, such as Project Discovery which includes career exploration and job skills development activities, and some of their own design, while incorporating visiting guests and community outings.

Students in 11th and 12th grade participate in the Mentoring and Internship Academy, which is CEO Program’s foundational and longest running academy. This academy is divided into alternating weeks called the professional development series and career-focused project sessions. During the professional development series weeks, the workforce development coordinator teaches learning sessions focused on career preparation and career skills development. These sessions also include visits from adults in the community and trips throughout the community. The professional development series uses a curriculum called Tenacity 1.0, a DCPS Employability Curriculum. This curriculum covers topics such as first impressions, code switching, time management, cover letters, branding, and interview skills. During the weeks dedicated to career-focused project sessions, mentors attend classroom sessions to work with their mentees on a project related to their mentee’s career field of interest. Mentors are matched with students based on the student’s career interests, and the matching process begins when students interview for acceptance into the academy. During these interviews, CEO Program staff ask students about their interests and begin looking for possible mentors to align with the interests expressed by students. Once students are selected for the academy, a final student mentor match takes place. Through their relationship with their mentor, the student has the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of their mentor’s career field and what that career looks like in practice, and the student also develops skills pertinent to that career.

Students and mentors decide on their career-focused project in their first two meetings. The workforce development coordinator of the academy is present at all sessions to provide support and assistance as needed, but after projects are decided and started by a mentor and mentee, the involvement of the coordinator is often minimal. While projects may vary widely, all demonstrate the skills necessary for the student’s career field of interest. Some past projects have included a 3-D design of a music studio from a student working with a mentor from Architect of the Capital, a presentation on the Mars Rover from a student working with a mentor from NASA, a business plan for a nonprofit from a student working with the Advisory Board, and a presentation on the steps to become an engineer from a student working with Northrop Grumman.

Once the classroom portion of the program ends in May, students in the Mentoring and Internship Academy are able to utilize the skills that they have learned through their projects by continuing with their mentor for an 80-hour internship at their place of employment. Internships take place during the summer months, but time arrangements may vary to meet the 80-hour requirement. The CEO Program’s workforce development coordinator and transition specialist visit the internship sites during the first couple days of the internship. This visit allows the staff to check in with students and mentors to ensure that things start off smoothly and that everyone is comfortable. After the initial visit, a line of communication is kept open between the mentors, students, and CEO Program staff. Staff check in with both the mentor and the student periodically throughout the summer.

In 12th grade, students who are not in the Mentoring and Internship Academy are eligible to take part in the Exercises in Transition (EXIT) Academy. Through the EXIT Academy, students participate in learning sessions to develop real-life skills that will prepare them for their transition to independent adulthood. The EXIT Academy model addresses three areas: Pathways to Graduation, Exploration and Exposure to a Career Field of Interest, and Access to Resources. As a part of Pathways to Graduation, the EXIT Academy workforce development coordinator ensures that students understand graduation requirements and how to access supports if needed in order to graduate. In Exploration and Exposure to a Career Field of Interest, students not only spend time exploring their interests and career options, but they also develop a postsecondary action plan to help them reach their long-term career goals. Students develop a portfolio with all of their relevant documents to support their transition into postsecondary education and employment. Some of the skills covered in sessions include managing a bank account, navigating a college campus, living with a roommate, and identifying timelines like open enrollment, finals, and financial aid deadlines. Students leave the academy with an understanding of how to manage and navigate the expectations of postsecondary and workplace settings.

States of Operation: District of Columbia
Youth Targeted: Students ages 15-22 years old enrolled in District of Columbia Public Schools on a diploma track. Students must have a documented disability and receive accommodations through an Individualized Education Program.
ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2017


School-Based Preparatory Experiences: Students in the EXIT Academy are in their senior year of high school, and with that stage of life comes a lot of preparation to ensure that students graduate and transition to postsecondary education. One of the ways that CEO Program staff support their students in the EXIT Academy is to ensure that they know and understand what is required of them during their senior year in order to graduate. This includes an understanding of the graduation requirements and a knowledge of deadlines for paperwork. In addition to these school deadlines required for graduation, CEO Program staff consider each student’s postsecondary plan and make sure that they understand the deadlines required for these plans. Students complete a transition portfolio containing all the plans, paperwork, and documentation that they will need to prepare for their transition. By providing this extra support, CEO Program staff can make sure that their students are ready for graduation and for what is next.


Career Exploration: All of the CEO Program academies provide career exploration opportunities through a variety of strategies. These include discussions of students’ interests and the careers that align with those interests, visits from professionals in the community to discuss their careers and how they got there, and visits to different workplaces and community agencies. The Pre-ETS Academy for 9th and 10th graders is intentionally designed to provide students with the opportunity to explore a variety of careers in its exploration phase. CEO Program staff utilize a number of interest and value assessments from a variety of sources to help students identify their interests. After completing these assessments, students work with the workforce development coordinator to explore the career options that align with their interests, again using a variety of resources. The Pre-ETS Academy utilizes many visits from different career speakers in a variety of fields. Career speakers share information about their work and what steps they took to get where they are, and they give the students an opportunity to ask questions. By bringing professionals in the community to the students’ learning sessions at the NYTC, students are able to learn about more careers than they would by traveling to different workplaces in the community. While some career exploration takes place on students’ trips around the community, the focus of trips in the community for Pre-ETS is to practice the skills that they are learning in their classes.

Career Preparation and Practice: In each of the three academies, students learn about the various skills they will need to prepare for work. These include both soft skills and job search skills like creating a resume, writing cover letters, and preparing for interviews. Students learn these skills in the classroom, but they are also given real-life opportunities to practice them. Ninth grade students in the Pre-ETS program learn skills such as how to introduce themselves and how to dress professionally during their classroom sessions, and then they take a trip to the Kennedy Center in which they practice those skills. Students in the Internship and Mentoring Academy use the skills discussed during their professional development weeks while working with their mentor on career focused projects and during their internship in the summer. The career readiness curriculum used in the Internship and Mentoring Academy covers such things as first impressions, maintaining a positive attitude, organization, and time management. Students are able to put these skills directly into practice at their internship site to further develop them. Twelfth grade students in the EXIT Academy face a number of extra responsibilities as they prepare for life after high school. While all of the academies equip students with some level of interview skills, resume writing, and financial management skills, these skills play a more prominent role in the EXIT Academy. In the EXIT Academy, students are not only taught about career preparation for the adult work system and what is available to them in terms of supports and services as an adult employee, but they also visit adult services agencies. By applying the career readiness lessons of the classroom to real-life situations, students develop and reinforce skills that will prepare them to meet their career goals.

Career Mentor and Internship: By using the same mentor for both the classroom sessions and the summer internship component, the CEO Program provides students in the Mentoring and Internship Academy with a unique mentor relationship. CEO Program staff travel to the students’ schools, interviewing each student that applied and learning about his or her interests. Staff say that this interview is less like an interview and more like a conversation to get to know the students and find out if the program would be a good fit for them. The CEO Program then uses this information to find a mentor who matches the students’ interests and with whom they are able to work on their career-focused projects and develop career knowledge and skills that align with their interests. The use of career-focused projects to learn skills relevant to a career field of interest is a valuable opportunity for the students in the CEO Program. By bringing in professionals who work in the students’ career fields of interest to assist them with projects, the CEO Program provide students the opportunity to gain an intimate knowledge of the field that they would be unlikely to gain in another after-school format. As the school year ends, students are then able to continue on with their mentors at their workplace for an internship. Students have built relationships with their mentors throughout their class sessions, and they are able to build upon these relationships and the knowledge they have gained in these sessions during their internships. The establishment of the mentor/mentee relationship prior to the internship allows for a more meaningful internship experience. The mentor’s knowledge of the mentee may enable them to tailor the internship experiences even further to the interests of the student. Additionally, the mentee may feel more comfortable asking questions that need to be asked because of their relationship with their mentor, allowing for more learning opportunities.

Youth Development and Leadership: While in the CEO Program, students in all of the academies are guided in learning more about themselves, their interests, and how this may influence their future career. Students develop career goals, and CEO Program staff work with them to understand what they can begin doing now to reach those goals in the future. This often involves getting connected to certain services, supports, and trainings at school. CEO Program staff assist students to prepare for advocating for themselves in their IEP meetings and sharing their goals with the other adults in their lives. Some of this preparation involves specific discussions about what the students need, what the school system can provide, and how to ask for it. Other experiences in the program also help prepare students to advocate for themselves. For instance, visits to community agencies allow students to practice introducing themselves and speaking with professionals. Additionally, students in the EXIT Academy are able to use their transition portfolios to advocate for themselves in a post-secondary, employment, or community setting. The CEO Program helps students to identify their goals, a path to reach those goals, and the services and supports that they will need to reach those goals. Staff then help equip students with self-advocacy skills and prepare students to speak up for themselves in the school setting and beyond.


Transportation: Classroom sessions take place at the NYTC, and students are expected to travel to and from the Center independently. In order to assist in this process, student selection for the academies takes place in November, allowing time for transportation skills to be assessed. For students who are not ready to travel independently at the time of program selection, the CEO Program staff work with the school district on providing travel training support to ensure that students are ready to travel independently to the center when the program starts. Additional travel assessment takes place towards the end of the classroom portion of the Mentoring and Internship Academy to ensure that students are prepared to travel to their internship independently. In addition to making sure that students have the skills necessary to travel independently, the CEO Program also allows students to use public transportation for free during the week with their student ID or DC One Card. In these ways, the CEO Program works to make certain that transportation is not a barrier to participation for any students selected for the program.

Connection to Adult System Services and Agencies: As students graduate high school, they will need to transition to adult systems of support and services. In order to support this transition, students in the EXIT Academy learn about the supports that will be available to them as adults. Students visit the various agencies to learn about how to access these supports and to ease some of the discomfort that they may feel in going to a new office. By visiting these agencies together, students will also be more likely to use the services when they graduate.

Organizational Practices/Administration: The CEO Program began with the Mentoring and Internship Academy, which has been in place for about five years. The Pre-ETS and EXIT Academies were added about three years later to reach additional needs. While designed in a way for students to begin in 9th grade with the Pre-ETS Academy and then progress through the rest of the program, students are able to enter the academies at any time. None of the academies are set-up as a pre-requisite for another. . The CEO Program is funded entirely by Pre-Employment Transition Services funding through Vocational Rehabilitation.

In 2017, about 70 students participated in the CEO Program with 30 in the Mentoring and Internship Academy and 20 in each of the other two. CEO Program staff is made up of a DCPS transition specialist who oversees the program and two workforce development coordinators. One workforce development coordinator is assigned to the Mentoring and Internship Academy, and the other is assigned to the Pre-ETS and EXIT Academies. These coordinators teach the classroom sessions of their respective programs, maintain contact with the students’ families both before the program begins and throughout the program, and reach out to secure employer mentors, guest speakers, and trips for their students.
Students learn about the CEO Program through school transition counselors and must apply to be considered. The CEO Program accepts only students that are in the diploma track with the perspective that these students are often exposed to less career development opportunities than their peers in a certificate or otherwise alternative track. Although exact dates may change somewhat from year to year, applications for the program are typically accepted throughout the month of October. After the application period has closed, the CEO Program staff make appointments to interview students who applied at their schools in order to select that year’s cohort. During this time, staff are also taking note of student’s career interests and beginning outreach to employers for that year’s mentors and guests. Accepted students are notified before the DCPS Thanksgiving break in November.

The Pre-ETS and Exit Academy each accept 20 students per program year. The Mentoring and Internship Academy accepts 30 students for each program year. Students in the Mentoring and Internship Academy are divided in half with one half coming to NYTC for sessions on Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays. The transition coordinator who oversees the entire program will also assist the workforce development coordinators in outreach to engage employers. Past mentors have been one of the best methods of outreach to engage new mentors. For all three programs, the curriculum and lessons are designed with the Pre-Employment Transition Services recognized by Vocational Rehabilitation as a major focus. This includes the use of career speakers and mentors, as well as workplace readiness trainings in the areas of communication, financial literacy, networking, orientation and mobility skills, problem solving and critical thinking, professionalism, and teamwork.

The CEO Program collects data through a pre- and post-test model. These assessments look for the development of specific Pre-ETS skills including, but not limited to, self-advocacy, independent living skills, and career readiness skills. Since the beginning, the program has also found that after students have been in the program, they have a more developed and more meaningful transition plan.


The CEO Program began in 2011 Mentoring and Internship Academy. In the 2015-2016 school year, the program expanded to include both the Pre-ETS Academy and the EXIT Academy. The number of students who completed all components of the Academy in from 2014 – 2017 declined slightly, while data has shown that participation in the Exit academy has grown during that period.

Each year, some students who begin the program leave before completion due to competing time commitments. The number of students who voluntarily left the program for this reason was four in 2014-2015, four in 2015-2016, and 16 in 2016-2017. Some students have been dismissed from the program due to being unable to meet expectations and in all cases these expectations were in regards to attendance, five students in 2014-2015 and six students in 2016-2017.
Students enrolled in each academy are surveyed at the beginning of the program year and again at the end to measure skills gained in the program. Results from the 2014-2015 year showed student gains in each of the eight items that were measured. The largest gain was found in confidence in finding a job in their career field of interest after graduation. CEO mentors who were surveyed cited that they felt strongly supported and appreciated throughout the program.

In the 2016-2017 program year, students in the Mentoring and Internship Academy showed growth in confidence and in financial literacy and public speaking skills. Again, the most growth was found in confidence to find a job in a student’s career field of interest after high school. Students who participated in the EXIT Academy showed growth in confidence and in the areas of comfort during job interviews and confidence in attaining their postsecondary goals. The most growth was seen in students’ self-reported comfort in speaking about their disability with employers, teachers, and peers.

Organization Name: District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS)
Program Name: Competitive Employment Opportunity (CEO) Program
Street Address: 1200 First St. NE
City: Washington
State: DC
Website: https://dcps.dc.gov/page/competitive-employment-opportunity-ceo-program

Contact Person: Ashlie Roney
Contact Title: Transition Specialist, DCPS CEO Program
Contact Email: ashlie.roney@dc.gov