Working to improve access and success for students with disabilities in secondary and postsecondary education, as well as employment, independent living, and community participation.

Highlights from the Year

Check & Connect Marks 25th Year by Holding National Conference

Photo of participants at Check and Connect conference.

The first Check & Connect National Conference held this past October drew participants from K-12 schools and youth-serving organizations nationwide for two days of learning about implementation of this school-engagement model.

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.

Making a Map Project Works to Improve Juvenile Justice System

Photo of ICI staff in front of informational poster about Check and Connect

Project director Jean Echternacht (right) and researcher Xueqin Qian shared information about the Making a Map project with attendees at multiple conferences this year.

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:

  • Supporting each youth’s development of life skills must be a focus for all agencies involved in providing services.
  • The development of a relationship between at least one caring adult and each youth is critical.
  • Transition planning must not only focus on academic skills and positive behaviors in school, but also on other life needs such as housing and health care.
  • Outreach and engagement with families is essential in creating positive outcomes for youth.
  • Interagency collaboration and coordination of services are essential in overcoming structural and procedural barriers.

Check & Connect Goes to College

Photo of Check and Connect students dressed for community cleanup service learning.

For the past five years students and staff at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota, have participated in the Check & Connect post secondary program, which supports the success of its students with intellectual disabilities. In addition to classroom work, this group of students and staff engaged in a service learning project that involved community clean-up.

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.


Check & Connect Training in 2015/16

Graphic illustrating states in which training sessions for educators and administrators were held. States include: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington..

Check & Connect Trainings Since 2009

Map illustrating the number of Check and Connect trainings in each state since 2009. Zero trainings: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming. One and two trainings: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin. Three and four trainings: California, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey. Five and six trainings: Iowa, Louisiana. Seven or more trainings: Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington.

complete list of Transition projects, centers, and lead staff