An extension of the College Experience has been their CareerNext Program that is housed at SUNY Schenectady (and new this fall, SUNY Cobleskill). This has been geared toward students who have challenges, but are more academically inclined and have chosen to take on a more rigorous curriculum. There are still residential goals such as learning to cook, clean up after themselves, and shopping within a budget. But there is a greater emphasis on pushing the academic piece of the program.
The students take on the major courses offered by SUNY Schenectady as well as the CareerNext courses such as menu planning, cooking fundamentals, community involvement, and travel navigation. The program offers four or five work rooms, which are essentially like structured study halls. It offers time throughout the week that allots for time to work on homework, projects, or work with teachers during office hours. While the program encourages the students of CareerNext to pursue recreational opportunities that are a Community Navigation course requirement for the College Experience students, they are not mandatory and declining such opportunities does not affect their grades. Participation in subjects such as cooking fundamentals and community involvement is really on the honor system. We acknowledge that the students may feel overwhelmed during the week ploughing through projects, quizzes, and the other academic standards that are synonymous with a more traditional college curriculum.
The Academic Coordinator of CareerNext is Jennifer Mainello who has been a longtime member of our Employment Department at Living Resources, Inc. Jennifer has created a Google Docs assignment tracker that has been implemented this semester and helps make the students more accountable. When they have accomplished an assignment they “Fold It” without deleting it so they can indicate it is a completed assignment. The pandemic has definitely been a big transition for many of our participants, although students are still expected to perform regular amounts of schoolwork despite the pandemic. Jennifer performs five or six calls a day with the students that can take 30 minutes to two hours. We want the show to go on just as we are doing with the Zoom Curriculum for the College Experience students. We are also aware that at least two months of being idle may result in the atrophy of important study habits. We live in an age when virtual learning may happen with relative ease once a new routine is developed, and all of our students are fortunate enough to have a functional laptop.
With the pandemic, it is not practical to perform some CareerNext classes such as cooking, travel navigation, and community involvement. The sole purpose right now is just schoolwork performed remotely through technology, and the students are essentially working from home just like much of America. Some are benefiting because they are able to focus on those core classes so they are seeing an increase in their grade. They have impressed all of us by making themselves accountable and proving they can do the work. Some of their teachers are also hosting class during real-time. One student has all four of their classes still meeting online through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. For those students who are not accustomed to distance learning, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra allows them to take notes. If they miss something they are able to go back to it.
Students also have their own majors that will ultimately lead to a career someday. Students may pursue the culinary arts, hospitality and tourism, program and game development, aviation, and a few others. All of the students are different each with their own skills, gifts, and challenges. But each student must have some form of a learning or developmental disability in order for them to qualify for the program. The big difference between this and the College Experience is that students of CareerNext must have a Regents or State diploma to qualify.
Our Academic Director is Colleen Dergosits, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if any parents or potential students think that CareerNext may be a good environment. The program, dorms, and campus will be waiting for the students when the state of affairs in our world calms down.