Kathleen Borginis, Ed.D.

Chester County Intermediate Unit’s Aspire Program and Transitional Work Readiness Program (TWRP)
Downingtown, Pennsylvania
Kathleen Borginis, Ed.D.; Aspire Program Teacher/Transitional Work Readiness Program (TWRP) Teacher

Successful Transition Back to School

On August 24, 2020, students at Chester County Intermediate Unit’s (CCIU) Aspire Program entered a school building for the first time since March 2020. Not only were they returning to in-person learning, but they were entering the building as Aspire students for the first time. As Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania closed all schools in the state in March 2020, each student completed their senior year of high school virtually.

The Aspire Program is a unique program for students between the ages of 17 and 20 in which students participate in a college campus experience and develop the social, academic and emotional skills necessary to be successful in college and in life. Students in the Aspire Program take one, three-credit course per semester at West Chester University. As part of the program, students learn the safety expectations related to independent living, on-campus housing and accessing the community. Students also participate in the Discover Vocational Exploration Program through volunteer job experiences two times per week. The Aspire Program is located in downtown West Chester, which allows the students the opportunity to learn more about the community and to commute to campus.

While the Aspire students were all excited to return to in-person learning, there were many changes to the program due to health and safety restrictions. The biggest change was that their college courses would take place virtually. This was a major change for the program, as the main focus is to help prepare students for college by taking college courses at the university, spending time on campus and learning more about the community.

Despite the practices put in place, the Aspire students successfully tackled these new changes through persistence and strength. Students did an amazing job wearing their masks throughout the school day and participating in frequent handwashing procedures.  Students also helped with the frequent cleaning procedures by wiping down their desks and keeping their personal areas tidy. They displayed great effort in participating in their virtual college courses and learned how to adjust to completing their coursework online, including participating in breakout rooms via Zoom and note taking best practices. The Aspire students learned a great life skill for us all; how to be flexible and adapt to changes. The partnership with West Chester University has helped tremendously to make the transition to remote learning for college courses very successful for our students.

Instruction in the community had to be adjusted as well. Students did not have the ability to explore places such as the local library, museums and stores. The use of virtual field trips has greatly helped to replace some community instruction.

The Aspire students also participate in volunteer work experiences through the Discover Program two times per week and were very fortunate to be able to continue with their volunteer work experiences. By participating in their volunteer work experiences, students are able to learn valuable employment skills, and it is very important for students to continue to have these hands-on learning experiences.

On August 31, 2020 the Aspire teacher, who is also the Transitional Work Readiness Program (TWRP) teacher, reopened her second classroom to in-person instruction. This year, the TWRP moved into TCHS Brandywine campus providing the students new opportunities for work experiences within the many divisions at the CCIU. This transition program is a novel business-led, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace for students. Workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration and relevant job-skills training through strategically designed internships.

The TWRP is a community-based instruction program that provides a unique experience for students in a work location. The program is designed for students with special education needs, who have completed four years of high school, but still require support for transitional needs to increase post school outcomes in employment and independent living.

The program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help youth with significant disabilities make successful transitions from school to productive adult life. The participants work a minimum of 20 hours per week with the goal of full-time employment.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students had to learn the safety precautions for each of their new work locations. These precautions include mask wearing, frequent washing of hands, frequent cleaning of your workspace and sitting further apart from co-workers. Students at the TWRP are currently working in the following CCIU divisions or programs: Human Resources, IT, Preschool/HeadStart and the TCHS-Brandywine cafeteria.

The TWRP students have done an amazing job with demonstrating flexibility with adapting to the use of Google Classroom and other online platforms to make their learning engaging.  Students recently participated in a virtual tour of a bank and learned about opening checking and savings accounts. Students in both the Aspire and TWRP programs also participated in a kick-off day for the VirtualJobShadow.com website, which allows students to explore careers virtually and to plan for their future by exploring post-secondary options. This kick-off day was a fun way for students in both programs to become familiar with a program that they use frequently throughout the year.

While there were many hesitations about the return to school from administrators, teachers, students and their families; the students at both the Aspire Program and the Transitional Work Readiness Program are proving that students can successfully return while following safety precautions. The students at both programs have demonstrated an exceptional amount of strength, persistence, resiliency and flexibility during the start of the 2020-21 school year!