The 2016-17 STEP graduates.

Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnership (STEP) turned six years old this year. In the first five years, program has worked with 30 students and seen many successes. It is now a model for other school districts.

STEP is a multi-agency collaboration designed to provide intensive work skills training and development to Columbia Public School Seniors with developmental disabilities.

The primary agencies participating in the STEP collaboration team are:  Boone Hospital Center (BHC), Columbia Public Schools (CPS), Alternative Community Training (ACT), Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Boone County Family Resources (BCFR), and the Central Missouri Regional Office (CMRO)(Missouri Department of Mental Health). Other agencies are invited to participate as appropriate based on individual intern needs.

Students are referred to the STEP program during their junior year by their Support Coordinator at Boone County Family Resources or by Columbia Public Schools staff.

Students are screened and selected for the program by the STEP Support team. Incoming interns and parents attend an orientation at the end of the student’s junior year. During the summer, interns participate in career planning activities with the STEP Career Specialist. This helps with appropriate internship placements once they begin the STEP program and with identifying the general employment skills that need to be developed.

Interns attend the STEP program at Boone Hospital full-time during their senior year. Each student works on individualized goals designed to help them progress towards successful competitive employment.

Columbia Public Schools Special Education staff, Vocational Rehabilitation Career Counselor, and ACT Career Specialist work with interns during the first six weeks of the program in the STEP Transition Center on the Boone Hospital campus. During this time, interns learn job readiness skills, interview for internships, and complete Boone Beginnings training.

Beginning with week seven of the program, interns spend a maximum of five hours per day at their internship sites with job supports from ACT, BCFR, CPS staff, and their BHC department mentor.

As interns gain competencies and natural supports are developed, supports are faded out gradually. Weekly meetings are held with BCFR, CPS, VR, and ACT staff to discuss intern progress and concerns. Additional individual team meetings are organized as needed to ensure each intern receives the support and services needed to help him/her reach his/her goals.

Once the intern and the intern’s team determine s/he is ready to pursue competitive employment, an application for Vocational Rehabilitation is completed, a team-planning meeting occurs, and job development activities begin with the ACT Career Specialist. This usually occurs in the second semester of the program.

The goal for all interns is to obtain competitive employment with appropriate levels of support in a job that matches their interests and abilities.

Interns graduating from the STEP program have a good rate of employment, exceeding the national average of employment for persons with disabilities.

Interns have been employed in a variety of businesses including Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, University of Missouri food services, MU Athletic Center, and Lenoir Woods. Two interns were been hired at BHC and continue their employment in the departments in which they interned.

Several school districts have toured the program as they consider similar approaches in their communities. They include Southern Boone, Waynesville, and Hannibal, which brought school and community team members to discuss the STEP in depth. They hope to begin the planning process to implement a similar program in the near future.