Defining 21st Century Skills: Blending Academics, Social Opportunities and Career Development

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For purposes of discussing transition and secondary development, this writing will be primarily focused towards our LABBB Middle School and High School programs. Our Curriculum in LABBB integrates three important components that all teams will consider when developing an IEP.  These skills are embedded into our curriculum for all students entering their transition years.  This blend includes: Academics (including functional academics), Recreational / Social opportunities and Career (Vocational) Development. The balance and blend is different for every student, and the skill and strategy of the team is to evaluate and assess all three components and integrate them into all aspects of our curriculum.

If we begin with the end in mind, we need to seriously consider the outcomes and opportunities our students will have when they graduate. What will help them be successful? What skills are essential to independence? Yes, a strong academic curriculum has many advantages and is paramount, but social opportunities,  identifying career strengths, and using them in a real work setting are just as important. These 21st century skills are vital to a students success.  A team can not leave out any of these ingredients; our students need this balance to help them be independent and navigate their lives after high school.

Most teams feel pressure to focus primarily on academics, putting much too much emphasis on one ingredient for determining our students outcomes. Our teams in LABBB  believe academics are extremely important and we need to works towards maximizing their potential, but we also take a mindful approach with encouragement and recommendations for our students to participate in social activities and to explore career paths; this will create a balance in their development, in their lives, in their ability to be independent.

Can our students problem solve, adapt to changes, collaborate with peers, think creatively, and be innovative? These are the 21st century skills that are being promoted for all schools to teach to our students and we need to adapt them to our students with special needs. These skills cannot be learned or generalized by learning them directly in the classroom.  A student needs to participate and be in the best learning environment possible to shape these skills.  We believe students need to carve out time for social activities after school, the weekend, in the community, and explore jobs in real work environments and LABBB has been offering this to our students for over 30 years. These skills need to be shaped through real life experience that is consistent. Furthermore, our curriculum is developed to teach the social skills necessary for our students to integrate with workers in an organizational setting; this should be required for all students before graduating.

Regarding Career development, we believe the most valuable experience is for a student to learn these skills directly in a business setting with support from a job coach, learning to follow the rules and responsibilities of the business. Enclave work settings are optimal, but at times 1:1 coaching, or on the job training sites (OJT’s) will be needed and then faded as a student progresses.

Consider learning a new language, a student needs some classroom time to learn the basics, but to really understand and become fluent in a  new language you have to immerse yourself with people who speak it to really become proficient.  What we have learned is that our graduates who understand and can apply worker ethic skills and have displayed these skills in our training sites are more successful after graduation.

We hear about many of our graduates experiences during our fall reunion dance. Every fall LABBB holds a reunion dance and we have over 200 students who attend. This is wonderful opportunity to talk with graduates, with some going back more than twenty five years. These graduates talk about their successes, failures, independent living arrangements and we learn from these conversations.  From this experience we understand the value of  blending academics, social opportunities and career exploration, each are an essential skill for a student to be successful.  We need to look at developing the whole student and there are three important ingredients. One skill alone will not determine success; it is clear that 21st century skills are what employers are looking for and we must meet this demand.

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