Empowering futures: University of Akron and the Charles and Salome Reymann Foundation launch Urban Youth Transition Program
The University of Akron (UA), renowned for its commitment to education excellence and real-world career preparation, is extending its expertise to a new demographic. In partnership with the Charles and Salome Reymann Foundation, the two entities proudly introduce the Urban Youth Transition Center, a pioneering initiative that aims to prepare high school students with disabilities for promising future job opportunities.
This trailblazing program launched Sept. 11, 2023, and marks a significant milestone as one of the nation's first of its kind. Welcoming 8-10 high school students from Cuyahoga Falls High School, the initiative focuses on individuals in grades 10-12, who possess mild to moderate disabilities identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Generously funded by the Reymann Foundation, this transformative program is planned to span the 2023-2024 academic year.
The program's key focus revolves around providing high school students with disabilities valuable real-world experience, achieved through exposure within an urban higher education setting. This initiative, which is strictly data and outcome driven, is located entirely on the UA campus and aims to immerse participating students in authentic employment experiences and educational services, enhancing their post-graduation preparedness for competitive integrated employment. Moreover, the program offers experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate education majors, allowing them to engage in hands-on experiences that positively contribute to the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and provide practical exposure to transition services, enabling better preparation for real-world situations. This involves advocating for impactful practices and increased readiness to improve classroom preparedness for both high school and university students, leading to measurable outcomes such as enhanced scores in the edTPA and OAE evaluations.
Driven by a collaborative spirit, 12-14 University of Akron students pursuing special education as their major will actively participate in this initiative, dedicating up to six hours per week to interacting with high school participants. High school students will receive one-on-one mentoring, including life skills and employment training.. Students will embark on a journey of job exploration, visiting diverse sites across the campus including the Athletics Department, School of Music, College of Business, Student Union and School of Education. These students will engage in classroom sessions using individual laptops and state-of-the-art VR headsets to access a tailored digital curriculum. Through these sessions, high school students will cultivate essential employment skills, independence and social aptitude.
Despite previous calls for change, most individuals with intellectual disability remain unemployed or segregated in vocational workshops and do not participate in postsecondary education after exiting high school. These persons are significantly less likely than their peers without disabilities to secure competitive integrated employment (U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). The program is a response to calls for reform, aiming to provide a more promising transition path from high school to employment or postsecondary education. Research indicates that involvement in postsecondary education programs significantly enhances the likelihood of securing competitive integrated employment.
“The Charles and Salome Reymann Foundation was established in honor of my grandparents, and is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities in Northeast Ohio,” said Steve Reymann, vice chairman of the Reymann Foundation. "We are dedicated to creating a meaningful impact on the community through this project."
Lisa Lenhart, director of the LeBron James Family Foundation School of Education in the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, expressed her excitement for the endeavor.
"This project is a wonderful partnership. The Reymann Foundation's vision is fulfilled, while both college and high school students gain invaluable opportunities."
Lenhart expounded, "Led by Dr. Al Daviso, professor of education, this program offers a remarkable opportunity for the University of Akron's intervention specialist majors to directly engage with individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Lenhart expounded. “This interaction, set within a distinctive classroom environment, not only fosters academic growth but also nurtures compassion and understanding."
As The University of Akron pioneers a transformative approach to inclusive education, it reinforces its commitment to shaping empowered, capable individuals who are poised to make significant contributions to society. The program also fulfills a shared vision by aligning with the Reymann Foundation's mission of enriching the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.
Through this initiative, the partnership transcends traditional boundaries, propelling a new generation of learners toward brighter futures.
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