Community Steps, a new transition program for 18- to 21-year-olds that would save the Wilton Public School District an estimated $32,520 next year, was presented to the Board of Education during its March 9 meeting.


The focus of the program is “to support the students as they define and pursue their life skills with a heavy concentration on living and vocational skills that are really embedded in the community,” said Ann Paul, assistant superintendent of special services.
“The IDEA special education law requires that we provide supports and services with a focus on transition and vocational services for a small number of our students age 18 to 21, who have very significant and complex needs.”

In the past, Paul said, these students have been in outplacement schools “because we have not had community-based programs.”

Paul said she, Wilton High School special education teacher Melissa Barrett, parent Fran Monro, and Wilton High School Assistant Principal Amy Korn have spent “a good amount of time this year brainstorming, thinking, visiting, and planning what we think will be a very exciting opportunity for this group of students and for the community.”
Out-of-district placement for 18- to 21-year-olds with complex learning needs, said Paul, is “quite costly,” and the new plan will “show how a program like this is not only better for the students and the families, but it’s actually cost-effective, too.”
“I think this is really a double-win for the district,” she said.

Barrett said one of the advantages of bringing these students back into the district is that “it allows us as educators and a school team” to facilitate and work with families, who currently “don’t really have [a] support system in place.”
Community Steps would also allow students in the program to access resources in town, she said.
“As you know, many of our out-of-district placements are not in the Wilton community, so these students with complex learning profiles are taking a lot of time to learn in a community that is not really theirs.”
Wilton is “a wonderful community and we want them to access it,” said Barrett.

Cost


Paul said there are four students — including those currently outplaced — “who we hope will be with us next year,” and the expected out-of-district placement costs for them would be around $393,520.
With the Community Steps program, Paul said, the cost would drop to $361,000 — covering staff, materials and transportation.
Program staff would include job coaches, a special education teacher and a speech pathologist.
Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly asked if four is a typical number of students for the district to have in its 18-21 program and if additional resources would be needed.
Paul said the number of students is estimated to grow, and Barrett explained there are six outplaced students and five at the high school “who we foresee needing 18-21 services.”
As for additional resources, Barrett said, it would depend on individual student needs.

Domains of transition


Barrett said there are “four domains of transition” for adult students in the program:
Functional academics, which “gets them ready for a vocational setting.”
Community participation, which “looks a lot at soft skills.”
Independent living skills, which “looks at adaptive skills.”
Vocational skills, which look at “tasks that students would be doing with most employers throughout the community.”
The program would include independent living instruction at the Wilton Family Y, functional academics at Comstock Community Center, vocational internships, travel training and community participation.

Benefits


The program would benefit students, employers and the community as a whole, said Barrett.
For students, it would facilitate the transition from school to adult life, increase their interactions with friends and peers, and create future job opportunities.
For employers, the program would allow them to have “really strong connections to the school system” without taxing their resources, Barrett said.
For the program, the school district would provide:
On-job support and training for a job coach, who would be with a student during his or her vocational internship at all times.
Ongoing dialogue with host site supervisors on a student’s expectations and performance.
School district-issued certificates of liability insurance for both students and staff while on site.
Commitment and agreement letters detailing all aspects of placement during the evaluation period.
“Employers would be giving us their environment, and we’d be providing meaningful work for them,” said Barrett.
The program would benefit the Wilton community in a number of ways, said Monro, such as by encouraging tolerance and empathy, raising awareness and understanding of people with disabilities, and promoting acceptance of diversity.
Education board member Lory Rothstein, who serves on the board’s Teaching and Learning Committee, said she feels the program “completes the circle of education” in Wilton.