In the Fall of 2011, The Arc of San Antonio embarked on an ambitious mission to upgrade the curriculum and programs provided to individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation provided a much needed grant to fund improvements to the curriculum and other programs at The Arc. Our first step was to hire Melissa Cornelius, Director of Curriculum and Training.
“It became apparent that we needed someone with teaching and curriculum experience to help improve our programs,” said Steve Enders, President/CEO, for The Arc. He saw a need to provide enriching and fulfilling activities that not only enhance the lives of individuals with I/DD, but also provides meaningful work and purpose.
Melissa joined The Arc of San Antonio in 2012. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Texas State University and a Teacher Trak Educator Certification for Special Education from Region IV Education Service Center. She holds several certifications including a current Texas teaching certificate in Special Education EC-12 & Generalist EC-4, Crisis Prevention Institute Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Certified Trainer, and is trained in TEACCH for Autism & Picture Exchange Communication Systems. Melissa previously taught in the Northside Independent School District.
In February 2012, Melissa implemented a new daily curriculum schedule following seven domains. The domains are based around different subjects/topics and allow individuals enrolled in our program to learn real world skills while also being exposed to new concepts in an exciting and engaging way. The activities done during the domains are created to allow inclusion of all individuals, including those who may have limited mobility and/or speech. Through modifications that incorporate adaptive and assistive technology, individuals with limited skills are able to participate in learning activities including vocabulary building, current events and life skills.
The daily schedule implemented in the classrooms also includes “work-jobs,” in which individuals are given certain tasks such as sorting, filing, and alphabetizing to help develop independence and vocational skills. In addition to meeting the needs of adults with high capabilities, she also implemented table-top activities to provide engaging activities geared towards a variety of learning abilities. These activities were extremely successful and we found a high utilization in all of our classrooms.
Better Staffing Ratios!
In order to provide a wide range of structured classroom and recreation/socialization activities that help individuals with I/DD reach their maximum potential, we needed to better train staff and improve staff to participant ratios. Many of the adults we work with need hand over hand support or are limited in their verbal skills and/or mobility. In August 2011, The Arc adult staffing ratio was 1 staff to 8.2 participants. In March 2012, our staff to participant ratio was 1:6.8. Our staff to participant ratio for October 2012 was 1:6.4.
Another objective is to provide varied opportunities for community and vocational integration and interaction by participants through regularly scheduled activities and specialized field trips.
Volunteer Involvement Program (V.I.P.s)
In September 2011, The Arc of San Antonio implemented the V.I.P.s (Volunteer Involvement Program). This program allows individuals with disabilities the opportunity to perform community service hours through a partnership with several non-profit organizations in San Antonio. This partnership has become a way for higher functioning adults to give back to the community while performing a meaningful activity.
The Arc partners with:
•Meals on Wheels—Two groups from The Arc deliver hot meals each week to home bound seniors
•Project 4 Paws—V.I.P.s package pet food in smaller, gallon-size bags to distribute through Meals on Wheels, the Food Bank and local food pantries.
•San Antonio Food Bank—Once a week, the V.I.P.s arrive at the Food Bank to help in a variety of roles.
•Animal Defense League—V.I.P.s roll newspaper for use in the kennels.
The V.I.P.s performed over 22,000 hours of community service in their first year
(October 2011 through October 2012).
The Arc strives to provide community integration for all of our adults with I/DD. These field trips include: recreational (bowling, puttputt, golfing, movies), educational (Witte, San Antonio Zoo), life skills (HEB, Wal-Mart), and social skills (restaurants). Overall, there were 314 outings from August 2011 to July 2012.
Is it working?
YES! The results have surpassed our expectations! Melissa started gathering data on how engaged the participants were with the new curriculum. Prior to the curriculum being implemented, baseline data was taken January 3rd through 12th, 2012. The data was taken using the Planned Activity Check method from applied behavior analysis. Data was taken by observing an entire class on a variable time ratio of 5 minute increments. She measured the number of engaged participants out of the total number of participants in the room during the observation. Engaged behavior is defined as, “Client is visually focused on staff presenting concepts/materials or on materials for lesson or physically manipulating materials in relation to task demand.” The result of baseline data was an average of only 43% of participants engaged during data collection observations.
Between July 20th and August 23rd, 2012, baseline data was taken again using the same methods. The result of this observation was an average of 65% of participants engaged during the data collection observations. Our goal is to see participant engagement at or above 80% by December 2012.
In 2013, The Arc of San Antonio hopes to open two new programs for individuals with I/DD.
L.E.A.P. (Life Enrichment and Achievement Pilot) is a program designed to help young adults with I/DD who are transitioning out of public schools and into community-based programs. This classroom will be led by two degreed staff with no more than ten participants. This environment will allow us to more effectively serve individuals with more severe disabilities (especially those with autism) that require a different staffing level and room configuration to engage them in our curriculum and activities. Such a staff/space configuration has a number of advantages: 1) more space per participant (a critical issue for many of our participants with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and other disorders; 2)greater ability to serve participants with more personal needs, including feeding and toileting assistance; 3) greater ability to go on more community outings and community service projects; 4) greater ability to work as a team on projects and learning activities (this can be problematic in classrooms with fewer staff and participants with behavioral issues) and 5) easier transition of participants from school-based programs (which have similar staffing ratios and settings).
We are unaware of a day habilitation program with all of these characteristics in the San Antonio area at this time.
The proposed Arc Academy involves the offering of multiple courses throughout the year to transitioning teens (17-19), transitioning young adults (19-24) and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to provide life skills, continuing education, and opportunities to participate in educational, recreational, social, pre-vocational, and community service activities. This program concept is analogous to community continuing education courses that are currently offered by school districts to the general public. These courses would typically run for ten week periods, meeting once or twice per week for 3-4 hour sessions, depending on the nature of the course and venue. Multiple courses would be offered during five ten-week cycles per year. The typical number of enrollees in a course would be six
to eight. A degreed staff person teamed with a non-degreed assistant (or college student intern) would supervise each course/group. The program is modeled after the Life Skills and CommunityWorks programs of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) in Phoenix and the ArcLIFE program in
Dallas. Development of some courses would be done with business partners, other
non-profit community agencies, and local churches to provide practical experiences, vocational training, and service opportunities to course participants. We hope to kick the program off in the first half of 2013.