The extra year of school helped one young woman recoup progress lost to COVID, turning her education - and perhaps her future - around.
Through Fix66, we have tried to convey the many challenges that COVID created for youths with more significant disabilities, arguing that many of these youths really need an extra year of public schooling to recoup progress lost to COVID. We recently learned about one such youth (Allison) who was scheduled to graduate in June 2021, and who took an extra year through Act 66. Her father Paul was generous enough to share Allison’s experience, and how Act 66 turned her education - and perhaps her future - around.
Before COVID hit, Allison was making good progress towards her goal of part-time employment after she left school. Most school days, she spent several hours in community-based training, gaining valuable work experience at places like Boscov’s and Texas Roadhouse, and through food services offered at her high school.
Paul recounted how, when COVID hit, “all of this experience, all of this progress was wiped out”. It was much more than the traditional job skills - Allison also had to work hard on how to greet people and on keeping up her appearance. She became anxious and upset when her schedule changed or when she met someone familiar in an unfamiliar context. In fact, her school had developed a program to systematically introduce familiar people in unfamiliar contexts, to give Allison a chance to practice her coping strategies.
All of these skills were lost during the 2020-2021 school year. Paul was very concerned about Allison catching COVID, and Allison could not be vaccinated because she is deathly afraid of needles. As a result, Allison had to complete the entire school year remotely. Training on the job or in the community is virtually impossible to conduct remotely, especially for someone like Allison who depended on 1:1 job coaching. Paul recounted that they all felt that they “were at a loss, abandoned, and falling off a cliff” when graduation came.
So Paul and Allison leapt at the chance for the extra year offered through Act 66 in July. Allison returned to the community, re-gaining experience and skills through volunteering with local non-profits and working at Wawa and a local restaurant (Epicurean Garage). Then Allison’s hard work paid off: she was offered a part-time position at Wawa, 5 days/week, 3 hours per day. Allison is still learning to cope with her anxiety as she is getting ready to work but once there, she throws herself into the job. She helps to manage the bustling coffee station, making sure that the area is clean and stocked up.
For both Paul and Allison, Act 66 was a godsend. Allison told her father that it makes her feel good about herself to be able to go to a job, and that she really enjoys interacting with her co-workers. Paul is also grateful; “As parents, we face a cliff (when our children leave school). This was not just the usual cliff but an extra cliff. Now we feel that there will be a place for her”.