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Maintaining Momentum for Students with Disabilities During the Pandemic

For years, Summit DD has worked with local school districts and Koinonia to provide a program that helps build useful career skills for students with disabilities. Koinonia’s Compass Pathfinder program (formerly ASPIRE) works with transition-age teens to explore their interests, develop skills and gain employment experience. This program is traditionally very hands-on. When the Coronavirus hit Northeast Ohio in early March 2020, that could have meant the end of the program. However, thanks to hard work and collaboration, teens from the Compass Pathfinder program were able to keep their momentum.

Adjusting to a new normal

“COVID-19 made things difficult,” explained Springfield Schools Intervention Specialist, Lisa Moretz, of the effects that remote learning had on her students. Even with the new challenges of virtual learning, Springfield was determined to meet their students’ needs and remain flexible.

The three organizations went to work quickly to create and coordinate virtual learning opportunities that would keep the students connected and engaged, while still building knowledge. Moretz helped students adapt to the new virtual learning environment. She spent time preparing the students for how work environments may look different as businesses reopen. She also worked with the students on the importance of masks and hygiene.

Meanwhile, Koinonia supported students who continued to work, helping to keep them and their customers safe. They also remained in frequent communication with local businesses that closed during the stay-at-home orders to determine when other students could return. As things began to reopen, Koinonia created a new summer program, called Compass Camp. The eight-week program is a series of progressive trainings that focus on different skills needed for long-term employment. This extension of the Compass Pathfinder program was created to help students with disabilities retain work skills, gain additional experience and find and keep a job after high school.

Embracing technology

Koinonia even held a virtual awards celebration. They wanted to recognize students and celebrate the successes from this year’s program. “We felt it was a good way to stay connected with students and families and honor the work that was done,” shared Julie Abiecunas, Director of Koinonia Enterprises.

Koinonia believes that there is a lasting place for a virtually learning element in the Compass Pathfinder program. With the positive feedback from the virtual lessons, they foresee a hybrid learning system continuing in the fall. “We want to evolve with the world as it is evolving,” said Abiecunas. “Compass [Pathfinder] has taken a new turn, and this will help Koinonia be at the forefront of helping students with disabilities.”

Even with the unexpected challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, everyone involved sees the 2020 Compass Pathfinder program as a success. Springfield officials believe that the collaboration among the different organizations created “better and more efficient services for students.” They went on to say that it’s been great to “develop a stronger relationship with Summit DD” as they work to meet the needs of their students with disabilities.

Koinonia echoed similar views based on feedback from the students and their families. Even with the unprecedented ending to the school year, two students found permanent employment, with a third currently working toward a permanent position. “It’s critical to have these partnerships between county boards, school districts and Koinonia,” expressed Koinonia’s Manager of Workforce Development, Jason Dresden. “The partnership is what made this so successful.”

Learn more

See what students and employers have to say about the benefits of the Pathfinder Compass program:

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