By VanBergeijk, Ernst
The Exceptional Parent , Vol. 42, No. 8
Founded in 1987, New York Institute of Technology Introduction to Independence (I to I) and Vocational Independence Programs (VIP) have helped educate a generation of teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders and other neurologically based learning disabilities. Both programs are situated on NYIT's 600 acre Central Islip site which contains its own residence halls, classroom buildings, and fitness facilities including a bowling alley, swimming pool, and nine-hole golf course. The programs are dedicated to educating the whole student with wraparound support services.
The Introduction to Independence ("I to I") Program is a seven-week bridge program designed for students' ages 16 years old and up. The notion of this program is that special education students sometimes need a bridge between high school and post-secondary education. The students in I to I sleep in the same residence halls and attend classes in the same buildings as they would if they were to attend the Vocational Independence Program during the academic year. The program is an opportunity for the students and parents to gauge whether attending post-secondary education or vocational training away from home is a realistic goal for the student before the family makes the often large financial and emotional commitment to paying for a college semester's worth of tuition.
Students in the Introduction to Independence Program spend approximately half of their day in a vocational placement where they learn job readiness skills (e.g. how to dress and behave in a work setting). Placements can range from food service and child care to clerical positions. Students earn a small stipend for their internships. The money from their internships is used in their classes in a practical and concrete manner. The students in their budget and banking classes will plan out their recreational activities for the week, which they must pay for out of the money they make. There are more activities than they can possibly afford on their budget-a situation many of us face in real life. The students work individually with their budget and banking advisors to prioritize activities and plan a budget accordingly. Fridays during I to I are dedicated to travel training. During class time the students learn how to use a variety of travel software programs and applications. They apply those programs and skills to planning the trip for the week. Many of those trips involve taking the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, where the students then learn to use the New York City mass transit system on their way to fun tourist destinations like the Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo
The Vocational Independence Program (VIP)
Approximately half of the students in the "I to I Program" matriculate into the Vocational Independence Program in the fall (provided that they are at least 18 years old). The other half return to their high schools to complete their secondary education or enroll in some other postsecondary educational experience. The I to I Program is thought to be a stress inoculator for special education students who are anxious about going away to college. During the I to I Program, students learn to live in a residence hall community, learn to navigate to and from classes in different buildings, adjust to the different expectations from college professors, and learn a whole host of independent living skills (e.g. laundry, structuring one's own schedule, budgeting etc.). This is all done before the addition of academic demands which begin in the fall semester. For some students the adjustment to all of these new experiences can be overwhelming and the academic stressor can be the "straw that broke the camel's back." This is why the I to I Program does not have exams or take home assignments during the summer. The notion is to help the student transition to the role of independent college before academic demands are made upon him or her. To read more about the Introduction to Independence (I to I) Program visit: www. …