KP Links is a transition program at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, MA. It is designed for students with disabilities ages 18-22 who have already attended high school for at least four years. The program, which uses a combination of classroom instruction and community experiences, is focused on developing students’ employment experiences, community connections, and independent living skills. Designed in 2007-2008, the program was piloted in the 2008-2009 school year and is now in its fifth year of implementation (2012-13).
The programming at KP Links is individually oriented, with a focus on students’ goals. Students who start out with a clear sense of their interests and goals move quickly into finding work experiences. Others may participate in job shadowing, interest assessments, and internships to explore different options.
The priority of the program is community participation, and students’ schedules are dictated by their work experiences, internships, and other community activities (such as going to the Y, the mall, the library, the laundromat, and shopping). Through these activities, students learn work skills, independent living, and money management skills, in addition to making connections in the community.
Students also participate in classroom-based instruction. The curriculum is customized based on the group’s needs, with topics including self-determination, self-advocacy, person-centered planning, vocational groups, job club, current events, home responsibilities, independent living skills, hygiene, and fitness. A student might start the day working 2-3 hours at a community job, return to the high school for lunch, and then spend the afternoon in the classroom working on social skills, tending to classroom responsibilities, and reviewing and discussing goals for the day.
The program is staffed by a transition coordinator, a teacher, a teaching assistant, and community coaches. The transition coordinator provides case management, vocational assessment, and job development, in addition to managing the program. The teacher provides a mix of on-site and community-based instruction, while the teaching assistant works primarily on-site at the high school. Community coaches, who are contracted through a local adult services provider, provide additional supports including job coaching, community skills, and transportation. The community coaches have been a particularly useful resource for filling needs that were outside the scope of typical teacher duties or hours. These coaches were originally hired using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, but are now paid through the regular special education budget.
The KP Links approach involves a variety of partners. Early on, the transition coordinator formed a transition planning team of local professionals, including representatives from a One-Stop Career Center, the Department of Mental Health, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), and local service providers. Following a series of budget cuts, the group stopped meeting as a team, but these relationships are maintained and the partners regularly communicate and access each other for various needs. For example: Staff maintain strong relationships with parents, help them understand the transition process and what to expect of adult services, and support them to choose a DDS service provider for adult services.
The local DDS transition coordinator attends students’ IEP meetings. Regular communication is maintained with DDS around eligibility and referral for services, transition planning, and students’ vocational interests and support needs.
Communication is also maintained between school staff and MRC rehabilitation counselors regarding referrals, planning, and case management. Students periodically visit local One-Stop Career Centers.
One challenge has been handling the difference between transition services and the usual high school routine. For example, the high school has a rotating schedule of classes, but KP Links students have their own schedule in the community. This difference in scheduling can make it more difficult to cover teachers’ hall duty requirements or schedule therapy appointments for students. However, KP Links staff have managed to work around such challenges to maintain the focus on having students out in the community and working as much as possible. Impact
The major impact of the KP Links program is on students. Most students gain some work experience in the community, even if it’s just exploratory or volunteer work. Students have built their resumes, developed interview skills, improved their work skills, and learned about work culture. Several have held paid positions while in school. In contrast, before the KP Links program was started, students in this age group were either in out of district placements or still participating in a classroom-only program at the high school.
Elena Varney, Transition Coordinator
King Philip Regional High School
Jennifer Sullivan Sulewski, Research Associate
Institute for Community Inclusion