INSPIRE Program Plants a Seed of Purpose
Writer / Tonja Talley
A purpose flows through the veins of everyone in this world. A seed will grow if passionately nurtured. One or a community gathers to breathe life into the creation. Timing and thinking outside of the box enhances the goal.
Special Services, Johnson County and Surrounding Schools (SSJCSS) planted a seed in 2013, and the result blossomed into a program — a goal with purpose.
INSPIRE. The acronym stands for Individual Needs in Special Places to Increase Relevant work Experience.
What is INSPIRE?
The program applies a new mindset in the transition of 18- to 22-year-old intellectually disabled students from the end of their senior year of high school into adult life. The INSPIRE program supports the students who want to continue academic, career and independent living instruction to prepare for gainful employment.
According to Michele Neumann, SSJCSS assistant director, the INSPIRE students participate in a college or a career school and obtain hands-on work experience before they apply for jobs within the community.
One INSPIRE program works amid a partnership with SSJCSS and Franklin College. Heading into its second full year of operation, students and nonstudents alike praise the program.
Former Center Grove student and INSPIRE graduate Richie Olopade said what he liked about INSPIRE. “I enjoyed working in the kitchen with Danny. Learning to work in the Commons helped me get a job.” Olopade now works for Sodexo.
“INSPIRE allows students to have the independence that they want in a structured environment,” said Neumann. “Being around age-appropriate peers in a college environment through this program allows for students to explore opportunities that they might not otherwise have been able to achieve.”
When asked what his favorite part of INSPIRE was last year, Greenwood High School student Christian Parks said, “Exploring freely around the campus and Franklin. It means a lot to me.”
“The INSPIRE students get on campus, and the students, parents and teachers are blown away with what they are accomplishing,” said Jennifer Casselman, Center Grove’s teacher of record.
According to Mike Nevins, SSJCSS transition coordinator, a committee filled by employees of both Franklin College and SSJCSS selects students from a number of high school senior applicants who attend the county’s school districts. Before selection, each applicant and the board meet to get to know one another. Anyone interested in the program may contact the teacher of record from the student’s high school and obtain an application.
How INSPIRE Works
“For the students and parents who have heard ‘I can’t,’ we can,” said Alisha Webb, INSPIRE job coach.
The 1- to 2-year program utilizes Franklin College as a base. The students work, attend class or college events and socialize. The program’s job coaches assist the students in all aspects of becoming an independent adult during INSPIRE.
In the beginning, the job coaches walk with their students to all campus activities or into the town of Franklin. Once confidence builds, student independence develops cautiously. “Our students are pretty good getting around on their own. It doesn’t take them long to roll their eyes and say, ‘Alisha, I can do this on my own. Please go away,’” said Webb, giggling.
Each semester for 50 minutes a week, students attend INSPIRE-100, a class designed just for the INSPIRE students. The class utilizes a simple syllabus with different sections. One section considers campus conduct and rules while later in the curriculum, the “Getting a Job” segment of the course teaches students how to write a résumé, fill out an application and present themselves in an interview.
Class Fun Day adventures find the group and its coaches traveling. One never knows where they might go. No matter where the adventure, the students reaffirm skills learned in INSPIRE-100. “When arriving at the bus stop to get to our destination, students recall learning the bus schedule in class or they remember how to tip when we stop at a restaurant for lunch,” said Webb. “Skills like these allow students their independence.”
Keeping in mind a student’s interest, Franklin College offers a variety of jobs to undertake. If the student enjoys the outdoors, their work assignments may consist of painting curbs, working in flowerbeds or mowing the lawn. If the work involves being indoors, the jobs might entail cleaning, taking inventory or moving furniture for banquets.
Participants learn from the campus employees how to complete a task. At each job site, job coaches assist the student with questions or concerns. There’s much to be learned accomplishing a job task properly. Job coaches encourage questions pertaining to task completion, work breaks and appropriate times to start new assignments.
Job coaches respond to these types of questions. However, once a student starts feeling comfortable with their assigned employee and task, job coaches slowly step out of the picture. The reason is this forces the student to rely on what he or she knows the employer requests of them instead of using the job coach as a crutch.
Guest and Mentor Classes
“Franklin College welcomes the INSPIRE students to attend one class a semester as guests,” Nevins said. When asked to give some examples, he said, “For instance, one student last year visited a biology lab and dissected a crawfish. Another student interested in law took a political science class where he participated in a mock trial.”
The mentor classes place an INSPIRE student with a college student for a class project. Last spring for a class assignment, media students were to film the INSPIRE students working their various campus jobs. The collaboration brought the INSPIRE students stardom and the college students credit. Coming fall semester, these films hit the red carpet at Franklin College just in time for the new INSPIRE students to experience.
In speaking about the guest and mentor classes, Neumann commented, “Our partnership with the Franklin College community has been incredible for not just the INSPIRE students, but the faculty, staff and students who have participated together.”
Coming this semester, the SSJCSS welcomes Central Nine (C-9), an area career and technical school, as its second INSPIRE partner.
The 2015-16 year welcomes three new students to the programs, two of which attended Center Grove. Ali Callahan advances to Franklin College INSPIRE, and Daniel Peed furthers his education at C-9 INSPIRE.
In a recent interview with Callahan, she expressed her desire to take in as much of campus life as possible. “I want to go every day, so I can talk with old friends and make new ones. I someday want to work in an office. I like to work on the computer entering data. I hope Franklin College has some of that.”
Peed likes to work on anything with four or more wheels. “I dream of having my own auto body shop someday. C-9 [INSPIRE] has auto classes. I think the program will help me.”
“For many families, INSPIRE is a dream come true,” Webb said. “We are planting a seed by giving students a chance to participate in post-secondary activities and obtain hands-on work experience using real-life scenarios. What an opportunity!”
For more information about Special Services, Johnson County and Surrounding Schools or the INSPIRE program, check out their website at ssjcs.k12.in.us.
If your business would like to find out what an INPIRE partnership could look like, please call Michele Neumann at 317-736-8495 or email her at email@example.com.