Transitions are among life’s major challenges, and progressing from student to independent adult is one of the biggest.
To help young adults who need support making the transition, Iowa School for the Deaf offers a 4PLUS (Post-senior Learning for Ultimate Success) program for deaf students, and Iowa Educational Service for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is based at ISD, offers one for blind and visually impaired students.
ISD has had a 4PLUS program for deaf students for about 15 years. IESBVI had a program when the agency was based in Vinton and re-established it in 2016 at ISD.
“It’s basically for students who need a little more help facing real-world experiences,” said Chris Nipper, work experience coordinator for both programs. “It’s not only ISD students, it’s mainstream students from around the state, too.”
As of January, all of the 13 students in the program for deaf students had jobs, except one who had just completed a seasonal position, according to the February issue of The Bobcat.
Life skills teacher Wendy Rustad, who is deaf, can relate to students facing the challenge.
“After I graduated from ISD, I was alone in the world looking for work,” Rustad said. “As a deaf person, we face many frustrations and challenges because of communication. Students have to become aware of and deal with it. This is a hearing world, basically. I feel my communication challenges and barriers, my experience, helped me to understand the students and where they’re coming from.”
Participants generally enter the program as high school seniors and graduate after they find a job and housing in the community, but they can continue until they turn 21.
If a student has already earned a high school diploma, the school has to hold it until they are finished with the program, said teacher Stacey Tellgren. If a student reaches 21 during a school year, they can continue until the end of the school year.
Classes, tutoring, transportation and room and board are paid for by the student’s home school district. ISD provides transportation so students can go home on the weekend, said teacher Holly Reeves.
Each student works with the staff to develop a plan based on their needs and goals, Tellgren and Nipper said. The students are not disabled, just “differently abled,” Tellgren said.
“Most importantly, we want students to develop self-determination,” Nipper said.
There are currently 13 students in the deaf program, and two others recently graduated, Rustad said. There are nine in the blind/visually impaired program. Most live on campus.
Nipper helps students find jobs and provides employment support. That means making partnerships with employers and educating them on the students’ abilities, as well as any accommodations they might need. Teachers hold mock interviews with students on campus and teach them how to update their resumes as they learn new skills. All of them must learn to have a good attitude toward their co-workers, Nipper said.
Some learn skills by volunteering, said Jan Loverin, life skills teacher.
Accommodations might not be as difficult as employers think, Reeves said.
“There’s so many things out there with technology now,” she said. “There are so many things that can be put in place that are reasonable.”
Deaf students can learn to write notes, send text messages and work with interpreters, Rustad said. They also need to learn to ask for an interpreter when they make a medical appointment, for example.
Learning job skills can be especially challenging for blind and visually impaired people, because they can’t watch someone else do things, Tellgren said.
“We try to make this similar to a work environment,” Loverin said. “That all helps lead into successful work habits.”
For example, students are expected to call the teacher if they can’t attend class, she said.
The staff also works with students on life skills, including cooking, budgeting, how to live in an apartment and how to get along with a roommate, Loverin said. Some decide to room with each other.
Teachers also help students prepare to get a driver’s license, she said.
Said Reeves, “That’s a big process for our students, because a lot of our students don’t drive.”
The staff emphasizes problem-solving, communication and soft skills, Reeves said.
Others include time management and decision-making skills, Tellgren said.
The program has been beneficial in many different ways, Rustad said.
“Our deaf students previously were never exposed to blind and visually impaired students, and they’re learning a lot from them – and they’re learning empathy,” she said. “As a deaf person, I’ve learned a lot about communicating with blind and visually impaired students.”
Tellgren said she wondered how the program would work when the two groups were combined.
“Our students are resilient,” she said. “They found a way. You’ll see phones going back and forth so they can see texts. Most of the technology we have now has accessibility features. It’s amazing to me what we, as a staff, have learned from our students.”
As students experience real-world challenges, they begin to adapt, Nipper said.
“Adults, we all make mistakes,” he said. “We make them, and we learn from them.”
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