Jennifer Lillis, M.Ed., Elisabeth L. Kutscher, Ed.D, DCDT- CEC Publications Committee, and the NTACT Knowledge Development Team
Boston University, George Washington University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Community experiences during high school are an important predictor of postsecondary success in the area of employment (Test et al., 2009; White & Weiner, 2004). Community experiences have been defined as “activities occurring outside of the school setting, supported with in-class instruction, where students apply academic, social, and/or general work behaviors and skills” (Rowe et al., 2015, p. 120). With instruction moving online and social distancing guidelines keeping many youths and their families at home, how can educators utilize virtual tools to expose students to community activities and offer practice with skills students need to successfully engage in their communities later on?
Virtual experiences allow students to explore community activities they may be interested in pursuing as adults. Students may not be able to get out into the community right now to engage in these activities, but they can access online resources to learn more about their interests and preferences in ways that will help them plan and prepare for adult life. These resources can support the development of academic, work-related, and social skills that support community engagement while practicing responsible social distancing.
Academic Behaviors and Skills
There are many transition-related academic skills that can be addressed using online resources, and students can connect virtually with people in their communities to reinforce those skills. Although many community institutions are not physically open, students may still be able to interact with representatives by phone, video conferencing, or online tools. For example, practitioners may encourage students to learn more about the services at a local bank through an informational phone interview or by exploring an online banking app. The resources below provide some additional ideas and practice opportunities for students.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Your Money, Your Goals Toolkit includes 43 tools and handouts to guide money conversations about making spending decisions that can help people reach their goals.
The FDIC’s Money Smart Computer-Based Instruction includes a specific strand for young adults age 13 and above. It is necessary to create an account (email and password) to access this free, online curriculum.
NTACT’S Research to Practice Lesson Plan Starters provide lesson plans for teaching a range of skills, including skills that relate to community experiences such as community access, finance, purchasing, safety, and employment skills. Although not a resource for online learning, practitioners can use online materials or virtual approaches to expand upon these lesson plan starters to target skills students need for community engagement.
General Work Behaviors and Skills
Many tools for career exploration are already online. Video technology, such as 360 degree videos, can provide students with opportunities to take workplace tours and conduct ecological assessments. Be sure to take advantage of any career exploration platforms your district may be using (e.g., Career Cruising, Naviance, Career Information Systems). These platforms offer career inventories, career exploration tools, and may even allow you to connect with career mentors online.
The US Department of Labor’s Career One Stop Video Library offers a collection of videos about careers, industries, skills and abilities, or work options and education levels.
Soft Skills to Pay the Bills from the Office of Disability Employment Policy includes six short videos to help youth and young adults master soft skills for workplace success. The videos accompany the full curriculum, which focuses on communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism.
Charting the Life Course from the University of Missouri at Kansas City provides a number of resources for developing a vision of a good life including activities that may help students think about what types of community experiences they may want to engage in in the future. Their Employment Video Series shows how individuals and families are using LifeCourse materials to build visions for employment.
Social Behaviors and Skills
Cultural Experiences/The Arts:
These virtual tours and concerts can give students a glimpse into renowned cultural institutions. There may be additional museums, concert halls, or other cultural institutions in your area that offer virtual experiences as well.
● Take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
● Enjoy a virtual concert at the Kennedy Center through their Digital Stage
● Experience a modern dance performance through Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Ailey All Access
● Check out these 12 Virtual Museum Tours You Can Take From Your Couch from Travel and Leisure Magazine.
Many companies and organizations are offering free, virtual recreation classes online using platforms such as zoom, Facebook live, or youtube. On days when it is not possible to get outside, you can encourage your students to explore and take advantage of these opportunities. For example, students who enjoy hiking might enjoy Virtual Tours of National Parks from the National Park Service. You may also ask students if there is a recreational activity that they enjoy and want to find a way to continue or if there is an activity (yoga, salsa dancing, tai chi) that they are interested in trying.
There are many free platforms that are helping people stay connected while social distancing. The following resources provide some strategies for fostering connections online and using social media.
● NTACT hosted a webinar entitled: Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Beyond — Using Social Media for Peer to Peer Engagement. A recording of the webinar can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/3f49178
● Foster Connections from a Distance, from the Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offers a strategy packet that includes examples of apps that can foster connectedness online.
● A Word about Social Networking, from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, describes the advantages and risks of social media and includes links to a number of resources to help students be safe and make good decisions about their online presence.
While students may not be able to practice utilizing local transportation options in real life, they may be able to use these resources to learn how to plan their routes for future community experiences. For example, students can take a tour of their community or plan routes on public transportation using Google Maps.
Additional Resources for Remote Learning
NTACT’s recorded webinar, Transition Activities At Home, offers tips and resources to support continued learning and transition skill development for youth with disabilities during remote learning.
NTACT Transition Resources during COVID-19 Outbreak provides links to important US Department of Education guidance, transition planning and intervention resources, and online instruction resources and tips.
The Center for Parent Information & Resources webpage on Coronavirus Resources includes COVID-19 information in multiple languages, tips and resources for telecommuting, resources for schooling at home, and other coping tips.
The Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center has developed a website with COVID-19 resources for Distance Service Delivery.
Rowe, D. A., Alverson, C. Y., Unruh, D. K., Fowler, C. H., Kellems, R., & Test, D. W. (2015). A Delphi study to operationalize evidence-based predictors in secondary transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38(2), 113–126. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2165143414526429
Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V. L., Mustian, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(3), 160–181. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2165143415588047
White, J., & Weiner, J. S. (2004). Influence of least restrictive environment and community based training on integrated employment outcomes for transitioning students with severe disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 21, 149–156. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-vocational-rehabilitation/jvr00263