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Planning and Practice: Work-Based Learning for Deaf Students” video

Video Description:

Title page is a blue, turquoise, and white patterned slide.  White text over the blue portion towards the center of the slide reads; “ Planning, and Practice: Work Based Learning for Deaf Youth.”  Bottom left corner, white text over a turquoise section; “April 20, 2023”.  Upper left corner has black text; “National Deaf Center on Post Secondary Outcomes” with the NDC  lotus/flame logo.  Two video conference squares fill the screen, both persons appear female. From the viewer’s left, a Jen Higgins sits in a chair with a yellow wall behind them.  She has dark hair, dark glasses, and a dark blouse and is light skin. Jen speaks and begins.   On the right side of the screen is Leang Ngov, Leang sits with a dark gray wall behind her, has dark hair and a dark long sleeve blouse and is tanned skin. Jen speaks while Leang begins interpreting into ASL.


Welcome. My name is Jen Higgins, and I work on this strategic support team at the National Deaf Center. As a way of visual description, I am a white woman with dark shoulder length hair. I'm wearing a dark top and glasses.

So as part of the work that we do on the strategic support team, we look at programs from all over the country that are successfully working towards improving deaf education and employment in certain key content areas.

Occasionally, we have the opportunity to travel to different sites to film what they're doing, to talk to students, teachers, and administrators in these key content areas. One of the areas that we've focused on over the years is work-based learning.

So back in 2019, we had the opportunity to travel to Maryland and document what they're doing with their very successful work-based learning program that you're going to hear about today. We found and we documented in text and have shared that information out on NDC's networks.

Earlier this school year, we had the privilege of traveling to Idaho and doing the same. We filmed, we talked to students, we talked to teachers and administrators, and we are finalizing materials to share out Idaho's model program.

What we're going to do today is we're going to have a panel format where you're going to be able to learn from leaders in both this Maryland and Idaho program, again, both focused on work-based learning. We are so fortunate to have partnered with these two states over the years and we really appreciate their collaboration.

So for accessibility reasons, the chat feature has been turned off during this webinar. We welcome you if you have any questions for the panelists to please enter that question in the Q&A area and we will do our best to get to as many questions as possible at the end of this session. Next slide, please.

Video Description:

On a blue background, white text reads, “Work-Based Learning for Deaf Youth.” Below that title are photo headshots of Jennifer Weeks and Kristy Buffington.


So work-based learning, what is it? Well, really it's an umbrella term. And there are many different types of programs that fall under this umbrella, including internships and apprenticeships.

Internships are temporary work experiences that focused on different skill development outside of the classroom, and they can be either paid or unpaid. Apprenticeship programs combine more structured instruction with on-the-job experience in a particular field or industry.

There are also several other types of programs that fall under the umbrella of work-based learning and those include things like job shadowing, service learning, and cooperative education.

Each of these experiences provide opportunities for students to apply things that they have learned in the classroom-- in a workplace to improve their soft skills, and then to learn from other professionals outside of a classroom environment. These experiences help students to develop specific work skills and soft skills and even some tangible things like using different types of equipment or tools.

In today's session, we're going to focus specifically on deaf youth paid work experiences by spotlighting these two model programs. And again, we're going to do this in a panel format.

So first, you're going to learn about the programs from our panelists after I introduce them. And then our panelists are going to answer a series of questions. So without further ado, I am ready to introduce our panelists. Jennifer and Kristy if you will open your videos please.

Video Description:

Jennifer and Kristy appear on the screen with Leang and Jen.

Wonderful. So let's start with Jennifer. Jennifer Weeks is director of Secondary Transition Services at the Maryland School for the Deaf. Her passion is to improve post-school employment outcomes for transition, deaf, and hard of hearing students.

She currently leads a successful and nationally recognized program called Work to Learn, and you're going to hear a lot more about that today. She is in her 15th year of leading the Maryland School for the Deaf's Secondary Transition Department. Thank you so much for being here, Jennifer.

Next is Kristy Buffington. Kristy is the post-secondary transition coordinator for the Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and Blind. She also serves on several transition committees that include the Idaho Coalition on Transition for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth, the Idaho State Department of Education Interagency Council on Secondary Transition, and the Magic Valley Transition Team.

In addition to that, Kristy is an adjunct instructor for the Idaho State University's Anthropology Department and she teaches an anthropology of disability course. In her free time, Kristy enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband, and teenage children, and her pets. Kristy, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate your collaboration and partnership.

So we are now ready to move on to learning more about the program. So we can go to the next slide. Wonderful. Thank you. So Jennifer, please tell us more about your Work to Learn program and what it's all about.


A new slide titled, “Work to Learn Program in Maryland.” Two photos appear, one with a young man working with a gentleman, both surrounded by boxes.  The other photo is of a black young man in a commercial kitchen, wearing black clothing, a white apron, and smiling. Below the photos is the text, “Jennifer Weeks, Maryland School for the Deaf, Director of Secondary Transition Services.”

 Jennifer begins signing. An off-camera interpreter interprets into English.


All right, thank you so much for inviting me. I will give a image description, I am a white female wearing a black jacket and a black shirt. [CLEARS THROAT] Excuse me. I'm blonde hair, and I am wearing glasses.

Good afternoon, everyone. I am thrilled to be here to share a bit more about our Work to Learn program at the Maryland School for the Deaf. It was established about 15 years ago. This specific program is hard to believe because time has flown by.

I'm so thrilled to see so many students who have gone through our program and their growth. Research has shown over and over again that workplace experiences that's gained in high school will lead to permanent employment upon graduation.

The program provides an interesting opportunity for students to go deeper into their interests and develop experience and prepare for post-graduation life. The Work to Learn program is the-- well, it speaks for itself. Work to Learn means students are actively involved in work-based experience in a number of different settings and skills, learning both hard and soft skills.

The students are also involved in our Work to Learn program. And they've shared that over the years, they've developed some academic skills that also were improved, and also some that they can see themselves utilizing in the future after graduation. It helps shape their future, shall we say, and increases their involvement and goal of being better in school for a better outcome.

The work skills that are involved and employment skills that are gained, for example, getting along with coworkers, interactions and understanding the job, and even career advancement, it's key. It's a safe place for students to grow and develop those type of skills. So the Work to Learn program is one of the ample places to provide that.

Also, there is a continued development of that self-advocacy skill. We do have to add some additional support occasionally and opportunities to practice to know how to request additional support, maybe working with a job coach or even just developing or getting those extra support that they need.

They are able to use the self-advocacy skills during their time, maybe request an accommodation or even seek an additional experience. The program will also provide opportunities as well for them to grow and learn.

They do earn a paycheck in our program. So they are earning minimum wage, but as a start. And then the experience of earning a paycheck and how to balance and budget money, figuring out exactly how much to save and perhaps what to spend.

So that leads, again, to some more independent living skills and especially figuring out the world as a whole, how to charge, how to earn, how to essentially meet your needs. The Work to Learn based program provides just a plethora of skills. One of the largest I'll say key components is the employers who are offering that work experience.

The students have different needs, and they have different experiences and interests. And we try and find something that does match them all. Over the years, we've developed a number of partnerships within the community around 75 different employers through the 14 or 15 years that we've been working with this program.

They also offer summer events for students. So if they want to have work experience gained during the summer break, we're able to work with different partners and even work across state lines. So allowing the staff, mentors, and job coaches to go out into the community and support those students to ensure that they have a positive experience as well.

So we are providing a number of supports in addition to the work-based learning because there's just so much to learn. We want them to develop those skills so that they can be successful in future jobs.

The interesting part is the relationship with those employers that we've seen, they've been grateful. They are really thankful for our students and really, all of us working together is allowing for the opportunities to continue.

Once a year, we do host an employer appreciation luncheon. We invite them all to come in to campus or we select a specific business partner and we host lunch there. And we provide a little appreciation lunch and a certificate of recognization on their continued relationship and growth just to show a bit of our appreciation.

Currently we have four trips mission specialists who perform the duties very similar to a job coach, and they do work with our students and the division of voc rehab. In Maryland, they're a huge part of our program as well. They do provide some funding, and they pay the students salary. They also do support the Work to Learn program and the staff here on campus as a whole. So they are a huge part of the process as well.

So we've developed a relationship and a partnership. So we share with the students of learned within their work experience. And that helps to continue the process after graduation if they're going to work with vocational rehabilitation. The information is key for the VR counselors so they know how to help within the next step.

We do also have a partnership with Spectrum Incorporated. They are a local disability agency provider that they are working on developing. They have a payroll accounting. So they'll essentially process our paychecks. And so while the students are working out in the community, they're the ones handling the paperwork.

We have three drivers, and they are key for us as well that's helping to get the students from school to their work-based learning and back. It's about two hours each day. So total of 10 hours per week.

There are some that continue throughout the weekend. But if we have an employer that's willing to pay directly, that's a great opportunity. And more often than not, throughout the years, the employers love the students and they will offer them job positions. So we've seen that happen again and again.

So Spectrum is an important part because without the payroll, that part we'd be spending and it may impact the motivation for everyone because everyone like to earn a paycheck for a hard day's work. And financially, they understand the authentic experience that they are receiving in those workplaces. So we are fortunate to have that relationship with this company as well.

So there is a lot that's going on within our program, our Work to Learn for our students. Students are able to have three different work-based experiences in different locations. Typically, students go into the program as juniors, and they work a full year, junior and senior year. And we often have even seen-- well, often enough shall I say, the summer experience would equate to the three different experiences.

So the academy program here at the Maryland School for the Deaf, it's the 18 to 21 program. So there are some work-based experience that happen within that window as well. Is there anything additional? I'm trying to think. I want to make sure that I touch on each of the key points.

Well, before the students are involved in those work-based experience programs, we do have some job readiness courses that they take, which one specifically is called World Employment. It prepares the students to truly get into the world of working.

It's like a bridge for development, conflict resolution, for example, or even time management because that is the key thing to learn, as well as that advocacy that I just mentioned and how to move and think on the job. So just some tools for them to bring to their world of work while they're out there and aiming to be successful. OK, I'll stop. [CHUCKLES]


Jennifer reacts to Jen raising her hand. All 4 women smile. Jen speaks.


No, that's wonderful, Jennifer. I think that you have really hit on the highlights, and we will dive a little bit deeper when we get to the Q&A portion. But thank you so much for telling us about your program. Let's move on and go to the next slide and hear from Kristy.


A new slide titled, “Ravenous Raptor Food Bus in Idaho. Kristy Buffington, Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind Postsecondary Transition Specialist.”

3 photos appear: Photo 1: A yellow school bus. Photo 2. People sitting at tables and under tents outdoors. Photo 3: The bus, now converted into a food truck with bright red, blue and green colors with the white text “Ravenous Raptor.” A group of young adults and staff sit or stand in front of the bus.

Kristy signs while an off-screen interpreter voices.


Hello, everyone. Just to describe myself, I am a white woman with a green shirt and black blazer. I have a dark becoming gray hair that's short and curly. Thank you for having me today. I really appreciate being here.

Our work-based learning program, as you can see on the slide here, is a food truck. It's still pretty new. I know Maryland's program has been in existence for quite a number of years, but our program is only a year old. So it's still new to us.

Let me explain a little bit about how this food truck came to be. It was through a grant. Obviously, we were awarded the grant that we applied for. But in Idaho, we have a huge dairy industry and we talk about having a lot of cows in our state. And we do. We're a lot of rural areas as well.

There's a company based out of New York called Chobani, which you may be familiar with their yogurt. They're pretty well-known nationwide company. And Chobani yogurt moved here to Ohio and set up a major factory and operation here because this is where all the cows are, and they need milk to make yogurt.

So that company has been wonderful in terms of supporting local people and supporting communities across Idaho because they have the funding to do so, which is wonderful.

Every couple of years, they offer a competitive grant opportunity and they give out about $200,000 to local community nonprofits. We at the School for the Deaf were aware of that and considered applying.

So we wrote a grant, and they chose us. We were thrilled. We thought that was so cool. We have an old school bus that we were able to renovate and turn into basically a restaurant on wheels. And today, it is what we call a food truck.

We call our restaurant the ravenous, like if you're very hungry, that's ravenous, and raptor. And the raptor dinosaur is our school mascot. And this is the name sign that deaf students came up with right here that I'm signing with the three handshake. So Ravenous Raptor that is the name of the restaurant.

When it comes to running the restaurant, we have students who are in a program for ages 18 to 21. They're still in our school for the deaf, but they're a part of a program where they're learning independent living skills, or ILS.

Now, those students take care of all the operations from A to Z on that food truck. They cook, they do the shopping for the restaurant, they do the planning, of course, with staff support. But they or the ones that run the Ravenous Raptor food bus. And that is really the heart of our work based learning program. It's been very exciting.


The slides disappear, leaving Jen, Leang, Kristy and Jennifer on screen. Jen speaks.


Wonderful. Thank you so much, Kristy. I think we're ready to turn off the presentation and move to more of a panel format. Great. So now I'll just ask a series of questions to you both so that our participants can learn more about your program.

Kristy, I'll start with you. You talked a little bit about obtaining funding from Chobani. Can you either talk a little bit more about how that came to be because I know that was an interesting journey, and also touch on what other businesses and what other groups have contributed to making this a possibility?

KRISTY: Absolutely. Well, the process of grant writing and being awarded that grant was certainly interesting. The company required a letter of interest in the beginning. So we first submitted that letter of interest.

And now our first idea wasn't even a food truck. Our first idea was to set up a coffee shop, and we wanted that coffee shop to be in the School for the Deaf. So we sent the letter of interest explaining that and their board of directors reviewed our letter of interest and denied our idea.

They did say, however, they wanted to support the School for the Deaf, but not with a coffee shop because they had invested quite a few funds here and there in coffee shops and they saw a high rate of failure. And so that is why their answer choice was no, but they wanted to help. So they said please continue to apply, but come up with a different idea.

So we begin thinking about a food truck, and I wrote a very rough draft of that concept. And I didn't feel like it was strong enough. I don't know a lot about the food business. So I wasn't sure how to get into the details of how to do that. I began networking and trying to think through it.

I knew about Mozzeria, which is a deaf-owned pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. And I had heard about it, but I had never been there. I had seen a lot of the social media advertisements and a lot of the buzz around that in the deaf community, and I thought that was really neat.

So I found the email address for their CEO. And his name was Ryan, a deaf man that I thought, you know what, I'm going to email him my rough draft and just see what happens.

And I had, again, never met him before, didn't know who this person was. But I sent him the draft and I was so humbled and surprised that he responded and asked if I wanted to have a Zoom meeting for him to provide feedback. And of course, I jumped at that opportunity. And he had read through the rough draft and gave us a lot of feedback. I was so thankful to him for that.

So we sent that to Chobani, and they awarded us $55,000 for renovations to the bus to become a food truck. And having that 55,000, we realized now what? We have the money and we know we want to do this, but how do we do it? We don't have the equipment or know how on how to renovate a bus into a food truck.

So we reached out to some local Idaho businesses for some support. We first reached out to a company whose entire niche lies in renovating buses and trucks into restaurants. So we left the bus with them for about four months while they did the renovations. And when we went to pick up the food truck, they were wonderful.

They had reduced our costs quite significantly. And when we asked them why, they said they wanted to support deaf youth. And then they also gave us an extra $1,000 on top of the discount. So they had done the renovations, they put in a commercial freezer and refrigerator. It really just looks like a restaurant on the inside.

So I picked the bus up. And the second issue we needed was the graphic design for the outside of the bus. It still looked like a yellow school bus. And we didn't want it to look like a yellow school bus. We wanted it to look like a food truck.

So we found a graphic design business local to our area. And when we asked about the cost to wrap the bus, that outside design is a wrap, typically it was $10,000. And that just did not fit within our budget. So we made negotiations with them, and they reduced the cost because they wanted to support the School for the Deaf.

So they took about two months to wrap the bus and put that beautiful design with such bright colors of red, blue, yellow, and in that dinosaur design. I love the dinosaur wearing a napkin around its neck. The logo is there, and it looks so, so nice. So that was another business that worked with us.

Now, the front of the bus had some damage. It had some body damage, it was rusting, and it needed repair. So I reached out to a local business owned by a deaf auto body professional. And now with that person, I didn't ask for a discount but he offered. And when we asked him why he was offering us a discount, he also said, well, I want to support the School for the Deaf.

So we really felt like it was such a humbling experience not just for us teachers, but for the students to know that these companies were wanting to support their school and offering us discounts in support, and they wanted to see our students succeed.

The School for the Deaf itself cannot write and apply for grants. We're not allowed to do that under the-- we need a 501(c)(3) number in order to write grants. So we had established a foundation with a 501(c)(3) number and that foundation handles all of the funding, the grants, the payments. That all happens under a foundation rather than the School for the Deaf because the School for the Deaf can't do any fundraising.

So now we're operating that food truck. Students 18 to 21 years of age work there and earn money from vocational rehabilitation. They're paid for work experience, and they have different kind of stations there within the food truck. They have a soup station, the sandwich station, prep station. And then outside the bus, there's a table. And that's the person who front faces and interacts with the customers.

Every week, the bus is opened right there on the property of the School for the Deaf every Thursday. Also, people from our community have been wonderful. And some people from outside the school will come to the bus to order sandwiches and soup. So every week, the students alternate whatever station they're working at. And that way they can experience each of those stations and each of those different job skills.

It's been really cool, and it's been a great opportunity for students to learn interaction with hearing consumers, learn how to exchange money. And again, those hard and soft skills are learned. They're learning cooking skills and all that it entails working in a kitchen. So it's been a great opportunity.

JEN: Wonderful. Thank you so much for that, Kristy. I love that your story includes several barriers and how you overcame them. There is no easy quick solution to this work and you all have persisted and succeeded. So congratulations in that.

My next question is for Jennifer. Jennifer, you have developed so many strong business community relationships in order to make your Work to Learn programs successful. Can you talk a little bit about how you develop and maintain those relationships?

JENNIFER: Well, here in Frederick, we do have a strong deaf community. And so that definitely helps. Often, the hearing business owners that we interact with, both large and small, they are motivated to serve and work with the deaf community, and they want to draw in deaf people who may be frequent in their businesses, let's say, for purchases or even eating, or just to experience what they have to offer.

So we're in a position to tap into our community, including the deaf and hearing. So they are happy to provide that work experience in exchange for bridging the two communities together. So it is a win-win between the two.

So it's a help to the deaf community here, and it's beneficial that we are large and strong. Also, the employers that we do work with, they know, they recognize the importance and value of providing those experiences early.

Being able to develop those skills and the employers themselves know that the future generations will be helped/benefited because they are going to be able to transition that into permanent work experience. So they see it as making a difference for the youth. So the employers-- and generally, they are very motivated to provide that opportunity.

Also, we do cover the salary. [CHUCKLES] So that definitely helps the businesses as well. During recovery from the COVID pandemic, there was a challenge to hire new staff. So that actually helped to create more opportunities for work experiences as well.

There's really no one specific way. There's just a variety of ways to work with the community. Of course, having an amazing staff and team who are willing to get out into the community, do marketing, talk with people.

I know even within my own family, I kind of make them crazy. But we may even go out to dinner let's say on a weeknight or a weekend and I'll even say, hey, I love this location. This is a great place. Do you have any openings for maybe a student of mine? And that establishes a new connection and a new partnership.

So honestly, it's always on my mind and on my team's mind as well how we can continue to create those different opportunities for our students. The current employers, of course, they are a very vital part of the process in being out and keeping in touch in-person, via email, for example, doing a little bit more of a check-in, making sure that they're satisfied as well.

We do encourage our students to be grateful and make sure that they are communicating their needs. And just finding different ways to develop both the students' needs and the business needs.

Even after graduation at the Maryland School for the Deaf, we do pick an employer of the year. We have a hard time. Last time our department meeting, we just discussed-- we're getting close to graduation. It will be here in the blink of an eye. So we need to prepare and determine who it's going to be.

Everyone throwing their names and ideas of so many wonderful employers that we've worked with, and it's hard to narrow it down. Often, we have to give two awards to recognize multiple businesses for their contributions.

I think developing those relationships and partnerships with both the deaf students and the employers who are willing to work with everyone, and to be there for the employers it's truly how we make it happen.

JEN: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Jennifer. My next question is for you again. You both have talked about soft skills and hard skills that students are able to learn through your programs. Can you talk a little bit more about what those skills are and how you help students to develop them?

JENNIFER: Yes, well, part of the requirements is we call it 10-day class. It's a job readiness for the students. They're required to go through it. It's a series of different instructional experiences and different skills that they need to learn and practice. We kind of play it like a game. So for example, how to interview, how to develop relationships, how to interact with peers and coworkers.

There's a lot of opportunity for course advice I guess is the best way to call it and plus that on-the-job learning. We do have a one year class called World of Work, and it depends on the student level. And it is one year long, as I've mentioned. And then we have that additional 10-day class that some may better be fit for.

In that World of Work, we do have some role pay opportunities. It's typically hosted on-campus jobs, and they apply and then it works, for example, with their class. And then they practice some of the skills that they've learned in class with those on-campus locations.

So we do offer the skill building in the multiple different types of ways. We also offer different ways to develop those hard skills and soft skills through our learning courses.

JEN: Great. Thank you, Jennifer. What you just described is a good explanation of the fact that these programs are a lot more than just putting students in certain jobs. It takes a lot of preparation, it takes a lot of work at school, takes a lot of communication. And you both have successful models for doing just that. So thank you for describing that a little bit more.

My next question is for Kristy. What advice do you have for others who want to start a work-based learning program but don't know where to start?

KRISTY: Well, I think my first advice would be be creative. When I think about that grant, it was from a yogurt company. Really, there's no connection to deaf education whatsoever. So the company is based in our state because of the cows that are here.

So I would say, look at your state, look at your area, your town, what is your cow? What is your cow? Is there a big company? Who has a lot of money, a lot of employers? Who's willing to contribute to diverse needs in the community? That could be a great place to start. You chase the money. Where is the money? Who's offering grants? Start writing and applying for those grants.

The process of grant writing can be really tough. I was very out of my element. I was overwhelmed at times writing that grant, but I just went ahead and did it. And when I needed help, I ask for help. Like I said, I took a chance to send the email to the CEO of Mozzeria and we still are in touch to this day. He likes to receive pictures and updates on how the food truck is going.

So I would encourage everyone to just do it and ask for help. I will also add the people the National Deaf Center were very helpful. We ask for assistance-- whenever I have that rough draft, I could send it to NDC for their eyes and their advice. And so I very much capitalized on the resources that are offered at NDC.

I also think it's like Jen said. Sometimes with our food truck, our budget is very limited. We want to do things and we can't. And then, of course, COVID happened right in the middle of all of this. And of course, that caused all kinds of new problems.

But we just had to be flexible. We had to take a moment, breathe, focus, and not give up. We just kept working through some of those barriers, some of that adversity. So my advice is be creative, be flexible, and be willing to ask for help and support when you need it.

Video Description:
Jennifer signs, “Good advice. I agree.”

NDC Logo appears above text, black lettering on a white background:

“This video was developed under a jointly-funded grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) #HD326D160001. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the federal government.”

Next to it, three logos appear. The first reads “IDEAs that Work” with an arrow drawing a circle from “IDEAs” to “Work” and the words “U.S. Office of Special Education Programs”. The second logo shows a red-and-blue star with text next to it that reads “TA&D”. The third logo shows a blue circle around a tree. In the blue circle are the words “U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.”

End of Accessibility Document


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