Program Summary: The Youth in Transitions program was a joint effort by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Governor’s Council for Disabilities and Special Education. The goal was to create a statewide system of inclusion, support, and engagement for youth ages 14-24 with disabilities as they transition into their adult roles in the community.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development managed the grant activities and administrative functions, led resource mapping efforts across the state, and provided technical assistance to the local demonstration sites. The Governor’s Council for Disabilities and Special Education took on the role of convener, policy advisory, and provided some technical assistance. The Council brought together stakeholders from around the state including representatives from other agencies and organizations to address issues around transition. They led the development of the improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities five-year strategic plan.
Another activity under this project included a community-based resource mapping project. Youth with disabilities collected data for the web site and received training in Geographic Information Systems.
Four local communities, Anchorage (Nine Star Education and Employment Services); Fairbanks (Adult Learning Programs of Alaska); Kenai (Kenai Peninsula Independent Living Center); and Southeast Alaska (Southeast Alaska Independent Living) were selected competitively to become local pilot intermediary demonstration sites. These sites were provided extensive technical assistance through the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Program Structure/Design: Convening Stakeholders. Early in the project, stakeholders from across the state were brought together to help develop the five-year strategic plan. Two forums were held that included youth with disabilities, family members, special education teachers, general education teachers, business representatives, service providers (disability specific and WIA providers), state agencies (juvenile justice, disability services, behavioral health, labor, youth vocational counselors, public assistance, workforce investment board, education, vocational rehabilitation, the council, and the other boards), tribal vocational rehabilitation, youth homeless shelter providers, transition camp providers, the University, and Job Corps. The first forum was used to gather ideas and strategies for how Alaska should blend and braid resources to help youth with disabilities transition to adult life. The second forum was used to clarify and gain support for goals and activities listed in the draft plan. Each section of the plan included tasks, responsible parties, resources, and time lines extending into 2008. The plan was ratified by attendees of the second meeting and modified occasionally over the life of the project to reflect new objectives and activities.
Resource Mapping: Resource mapping was a primary objective of the project and was done at the state and local levels. Many youth were engaged in the resource mapping efforts which evolved into a leadership development activity in several communities. At the end of the second year, the state decided to adopt a web-based model similar to the system that the PACER Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota used. This searchable site (www.Alaska-youth.org) is a sustainable resource for youth across the state.
Staff Training: Training related to youth with disabilities and transition was provided by state-level staff to One-Stop Career Center staff, local service providers, general education and special education teachers, parents, policy makers, and youth. In addition, individuals from across agencies provided information and training on their respective areas to personnel from the four local demonstration projects. Transition training for teachers covered a range of topics including:
- finding specific resources in rural and remote Alaska;
- finding resources and referral agencies for youth with disabilities that do not meet the criteria of specific programs yet are in need of services; and
- learning how to identify and work with youth with specific disabilities, such as autism, learning disabilities, and mental health issues.
States of Operation: AK
ODEP Funded: Yes
Profile Year: 2009
Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: One of the local intermediaries, the Kenai Peninsula Adult Living Center, and its partners developed a Certificate of Employability Model through the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. The Certificate demonstrates to potential employers that the student is a qualified applicant. To receive the certificate youth completed a training program and demonstrated competencies in the following work-readiness related areas: Productive Attitude and Personal Qualities; Punctuality and Attendance; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Time and Resource Allocation; Business Basics; and Information and Analysis, Technology, and Communication. Work-based learning experiences through local employers helped youth practice and reinforce the competencies they acquired through the training program.
At the state level, staff worked with UPS and developed a training program for youth ages 14-17 based on the Guideposts for Success. As a result of the training several youth involved with Alaska’s intermediary grant became employed by UPS.
Youth Development and Leadership: On the local level, resource mapping evolved into a youth leadership and development activity that took place in the following communities: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Nome, Palmer and Wrangell. High school-aged youth, both with and without disabilities, conducted most of the resource mapping. Youth mapped data about businesses and organizations in their communities that expanded beyond places that might be traditionally considered resources for youth thus uncovering “hidden” resources (such as employers who tend to hire youth). (www.Alaska-youth.org)Adult facilitators guided the youth through the mapping process in each community and provided additional training on leadership, communication, and computer skills. Several made presentations at conferences detailing their involvement in resource mapping. Outcomes for the youth participating in the mapping project were significant. All of the participants except one received a GED or diploma. Youth received additional training in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and several youth became employed as a result of these additional skills.
Transition Camp. The Juneau intermediary site hosted a camp for high school juniors and seniors from remote villages that incorporated the Guideposts. Six groups of four students and two teachers came together to learn about daily living, career development and exploration, and other services available to help youth transition to adulthood. Employers also provided information about career options available in the region.
Teacher Externships. During the state planning phase of the project, a gap between the school systems in the state and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation was identified. Teachers seemed to know that Vocational Rehabilitation was a primary provider of employment and training services for youth with disabilities after they leave the secondary educational system, yet they were not aware of the process, the eligibility requirements, the types of services, or the resources available to transition-age youth. The Teacher Externship Program, which had been previously developed but not implemented, was reinstated as a priority by the Director of the Division and implemented by the Youth Transition Coordinator. This program allows teachers to work during the summer in a paid externship within the Division of Vocational
Rehabilitation. They receive training in the system and are able to support youth more effectively in the transition process. This program was expanded annually over a three-year period and continues today.
Teacher Academy. One of the local intermediaries, the Fairbanks Adult Living Programs of Alaska, held a Teacher Academy for all secondary special education teachers in the school district. More than 30 agencies participated in the two-day training, which included workshops offered by collaborating organizations and agencies. Each teacher received a resource manual for teachers with a laminated short-cut list of organizations and agencies.
EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS (INFORMATION AND ANALYSIS)
Systems Change: Aspects of the state’s strategic plan were implemented. A multi-agency Transition Task Force was established to continue work on issues identified in the strategic plan. This insures continuing cross-agency collaboration around activities and issues related to transition for youth with disabilities. Also parts of the plan were incorporated into the state’s Workforce Investment Act plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The resource mapping uncovered a gap between the education system and agencies available to assist youth with disabilities. To address this issue a Teacher Externship Program with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation was developed. It has grown annually and continues to expand throughout the state. Teachers participating in this program are better equipped to help students receive the services and supports that they need as the move from secondary school to post-secondary education and employment. A Transition Coordinator position that was established during the project has continued to be funded within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, insuring a continued focus on transition-age youth.
Partnerships among state agencies have resulted in more collaboration. A notable example is the Career Readiness Certificate developed under an agreement between the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Education and Early Development. Scheduled to be implemented starting in the 2009-2010 school year, the Alaska Career Readiness Certificate is a tool, piloted under this project in Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools, for youth and employers that documents work-related skills.
A web site (www.Alaska-youth.org) houses the resource map begun under this project. Five areas of the state, covering a large area of Alaska, are a part of the directory. Resource information is available for a variety of audiences and includes information on education, employment, recreation, and community services. Information on the web site is updated regularly. Youth throughout the state continue to have the opportunity to develop leadership and other skills through community resource mapping projects.
In several locations, including the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks, and southeast Alaska, the Guideposts for Success was effectively blended with the discovery process of customized employment (www.dol.gov/odep). Discovery considers an individual’s needs, skills, desires, interests, and contributions in real community workplace environments. This approach is much more functional and therefore more cost effective than traditional approaches to assessment, which often screen people out of employment services instead of capturing their potential as workers and human beings. This practice of assessing transition-age youth with disabilities’ strengths continues today in Alaska. This project had a lasting impact on the State’s Workforce Investment Act funded programs. Parts of the local intermediary plans were incorporated into the State’s Workforce Investment Act Plan, and significantly more youth with disabilities are participating in youth programs funded under the Act.
Finally, while not fully measurable, having the Governor’s Council on Disability and Special Education as co-directors of the project has insured that issues related to transition-age youth with disabilities remains a focus of the work of the Council.
Organization Name: Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development
Organization Director: Click Bishop, Commissioner
Program Name: Alaska Youth in Transition
Street Address: 1016 W. 6th Avenue, Suite 205
Contact Person: dre Bailey
Contact Title: Manager, Youth Programs
Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org