Carroll ISD's C-Star Program is turning dreams into reality for local youths
The Department of Special Programs at Carroll ISD vision statement shares their long-standing commitment to providing all students with special needs the educational opportunities and support to reach their full potential and become fully integrated into the community. But, in the last year the already stellar transition program has been refined and developed into a truly groundbreaking platform for enriching the lives of students and community members alike. Robin Kuntz, Transition Services Coordinator, proudly stated, “It can take up to three years to develop and completely re-vamp a program. I feel we’ve accomplished so much in just one year.” This innovative transition service is known as the C-Star program, Carroll Students Transitioning to Adult Roles.
The road to a successful transition starts in the 7th grade when talks with parents and students begin concluding with a successful plan in place by the time the student is ready to begin ninth grade. Robin Kuntz explained, “We have a very person-centered planning meeting discussing strengths, interests, and dreams to build a road map for a student’s future.” By the time a student enters the 9th grade they begin working on structured jobs within the school, learning skills for the future. Measurable data results are gathered, analyzed, and once a job is mastered student move on to learn new skills. For each student the C-Star staff works diligently to identify the interests of a student and then work toward paid employment within the community that ties to those areas. Robin said, “We discuss the four stages of life; employment, community recreation, instruction, and independent living.”
A transition center has been established at the former Carroll Middle School that not only has classrooms for instructional purposes but also has a mock apartment setup. Teaching independent living skills like housekeeping, cooking and activities to stay busy when they aren’t at work adds real life experience in a controlled setting. Whether watching a favorite television show, putting together a puzzle, or learning how to keep physically fit with visits to a local rec center students are encouraged, coached and guided toward more independent living and integration into their community. Even during summer school weekly schedules vary offering opportunities to meet somewhere in the community for vocational training or spend time at the Grapevine Recreation Center where the importance of physical well-being is instilled.
Based on the adult outcome objectives developed in the planning stages C-Star staff will determine what path is most appropriate to the individual student. One path of transition applies to students who will require additional learning and more therapeutic development beyond the requirements of the standard 12 years of school. Robin Kuntz elaborated, “Typically, the students in Path 1 require a more structured, therapeutic day. These students usually receive direct occupational therapy, physical therapy, music therapy, behavior intervention plans and/or health services.” In addition, these students receive community based instruction on a regular basis to work on independent living skills in real environments as well as to work towards participating in volunteer work when appropriate.
The Community Based Instruction (CBI) program uses actual sites within the community to learn and practice how to be as independent as possible. Students eat in restaurants; go shopping for needed items, participate in volunteer work and do recreational and leisure activities. As Kuntz put it, “Basically, answer the question, how do you fill your day when you are not at work?”
For students, typically between 18 and 22 years of age, who will complete traditional schooling within the 12-year system their post secondary education path will include CBVI (Community Based Vocational Instruction), a program designed to provide students with the skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. Formal “school” may be over but CBVI provides students with marketable job skills and the job sampling at retailers, hotels, offices, factories, food service, hospitals, and customer service throughout the community can help students explore different career options. One to three students will be at a given job site for eight weeks or until master the job skills. Then, they move to a new site to gain new skills and practice working in different types of settings.
Once a student has mastered vocational skills C-Star begins looking for a job match for the student to move into paid employment where a job coach will join them until they are independent enough to work alone at the site. Even after the job coach has moved on to another student C-Star still checks in weekly with the employment managers to make sure things are still going smoothly.
Kuntz explained, “During the 11th and 12th grade students actually go out into the community for CBVI at places that match a student’s interests.” CISD assists with not only job matching but job development and job coaching. None of this would be possible without partners in the business community and the professional leaders of our area have been very open to participating in the C-Star program.
Melinda Mason, a former teacher at Dawson Middle School who joined the C-Star program in 2010 for it’s inaugural year, works on locating business partners as part of her job as Transition Specialist. “I do cold calls on potential partners in the community,” Melinda said, “and I attend lots of networking events on behalf of the program.” Businesses in the area who are already partners in C-Star or provide employment for Carroll ISD young adults include such names as Kohl’s, Barnes and Noble, Pier 1 Imports, Panera Bread, Hilton Southlake, Tom Thumb, Lifetime Fitness, and Cotton Patch Café. One of the newest retail stores in our area, Home Goods, has also joined the ranks of C-Star partners.
There are several ways for a business to become involved in C-Star. Often a business will partner with CISD by providing an authentic work site for the training and development of C-Star learners with unpaid positions. A job coach, provided by Carroll ISD will assist a student at a place of employment modeling the job and then working with the pupil until they have gained the experience to perform the job duties on their own.
Your business may be a place that can provide competitive employment opportunities for these young adults who are ready to become a part of the community in which they live. Throughout the first year of C-Star there were six students who participated in CBVI and five had paid employment at a participating partner. Mike Hutchison, General Manager of the Hilton Southlake has partnered with C-Star since its inception and is thrilled with the results he sees. Tom Thumb manager Kelvin Hogg, declared that the C-Star students at his store are good workers who have quickly become part of the Tom Thumb family.
One of the job skills that C-Star works on with participants is what Robin Kuntz calls, “soft skills.” Kuntz said, “People don’t get fired because they can’t do the job, it’s the soft skills outside the technical aspects.” She continued, “We work with the young adults on how to talk to their employers as well as how to talk to other employees during break time.” According to Kuntz, job coaches also work on an employee’s stamina building up work times until four hours can be worked at one stretch.
“One of the largest barriers to our program is transportation,” Robin Kuntz said. “To borrow a District SUV or use a CISD Bus and have gas costs charged back to the department can take a huge piece out of our budget.” Q Automotive of Irving has graciously stepped up to help address the need for transportation and loaned a Dodge Journey to the C-Start program to be used for transporting students to and from their jobs and to activities in the area. As the program grows the need for transportation will grow right along with it and currently C-Star is raising funds to purchase an additional vehicle from Q Automotive. “Al Van Scotter is the gentleman we work with at Q Auto Group. He is a huge supporter of our program,” Robin exclaimed. “We adore him.”
The District truly believes that the C-Star program is a win-win situation for employers, co-workers and employees alike. Robin Kuntz noted, “When students are doing something meaningful and relevant to their lives their comprehension scores go up.” At Carroll Independent School District, the C-Star program is turning dreams into reality.
For more information on the C-Star program contact Robin Kuntz, Transition Services Coordinator at Carroll Independent School District.
Pictured above left: Joasia Nelson on the job at Southlake Hilton.