Check & Connect , the K-12 student engagement intervention developed at ICI, turned 25 this year and ICI marked the occasion by holding the first-ever Check & Connect National Conference in October at the University of Minnesota. Check & Connect is a comprehensive intervention designed to enhance student engagement at school and with learning for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12. Over 170 educators from across the U.S. attended the event, which brought together leading experts and practitioners from around the country to address the topic of student engagement among at-risk youth, share lessons learned, and gain tools for implementing and sustaining Check & Connect in schools.
The Check & Connect model was created in 1990 through a U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, five-year grant supporting ICI researchers to develop a dropout prevention program in collaboration with the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Since then, Check & Connect has grown into a program and set of supporting training services available for purchase nationwide. It has been implemented in schools in 26 states, including statewide use in six states (Florida, Utah, Washington, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Iowa), as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It has also been adapted for use in other settings, including postsecondary education and the juvenile justice system. As Check & Connect continued to expand its reach this year, obtaining implementation in growing numbers of schools, the program, directed by Jean Echternacht , also expanded its use of technology for implementation of the model. A state-of the-art web-based monitoring system using an app for Check & Connect mentors and coordinators has been under development and will be available for purchase and use by schools in 2017.
In 2016, the Making a Map: Finding My Way Back project of ICI entered its fourth and final year of establishing a comprehensive, evidence-based model to support juvenile offenders with disabilities who are transitioning from juvenile correction facilities into secondary and postsecondary education, employment, and community programs. The project, conducted in Ramsey County, Minnesota (St. Paul and surrounding communities), is a partnership of ICI and Ramsey County Corrections, Volunteers of America’s AMICUS, Inc. program, St. Paul Public Schools, postsecondary education programs, Minnesota Department of Education, and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division. Through funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, the model adapts and includes several components previously developed through ICI, and the project evaluates their combined effectiveness with adjudicated youth with emotional/behavioral, learning, and other disabilities. Those components are ICI’s Check & Connect school engagement model ; ICI’s Expanding the Circle culturally-relevant transition-planning curriculum; and the Reintegration Framework Toolkit developed by the Minnesota Department of Education and ICI to support interagency collaboration.
Under the direction of Jean Echternacht , the project has involved 63 youth. During this year the final data about the model’s effectiveness were under analysis, and several lessons learned from the project that can inform future interventions were identified:
Improving retention and outcomes for college students with intellectual disabilities is the focus of the ICI project Check & Connect: A Model for Engaging and Retaining Students with Intellectual Disabilities in Higher Education , directed by Jean Echternacht . Building on the Check & Connect K-12 student engagement model created at ICI, this project has developed a postsecondary model for using the Check & Connect framework and providing Check & Connect coaches to work with college students. This year, the fifth in the five-year project, ICI staff continued to provide technical assistance to Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College in Minnesota as they participated in the project, which focuses on academic engagement, social integration, comprehensive systems of student support, interagency collaboration at the state and community levels, and successful program completion leading to positive employment and independent living outcomes. Thirty-six students at Central Lakes and 17 at Ridgewater were enrolled this year, with 13 completing a diploma, certificate, or degree and 19 employed at some point before leaving the program.
The project, funded by the Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, has involved 228 students with intellectual disabilities at the two colleges in the past five years. As it comes to a close, the data from the project show that students who took inclusive classes exclusively, participated in campus events, participated in community volunteer services, and had prior paid work experience were ultimately more likely to earn at or above minimum wage in their jobs during their most recent year with the project. This result provides a clearer picture of possible connections between employment outcomes, higher education participation, and community involvement for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and a model for supporting those connections. Efforts are ongoing at both campuses to maintain and continue the Check & Connect model with a broader range of students who have disabilities.