Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities meeting at USFSP

The Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities meets at the University Student Center Friday, thanks largely to the efforts of Jordan Knab, Ed.S., director of  K-16 Educational Initiatives in the College of Education.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Knab to the 13-member commission in 2011 because of his experience in working with transition age youth with disabilities who are preparing to enter the workforce.

The commission holds quarterly hearings around the state and Knab recommended USF St. Petersburg as a location for its Tampa Bay meeting, the first of 2013. Interim Regional Chancellor Bill Hogarth will welcome the commission at the start of its meeting Friday, which will include a discussion with local employers about their experiences hiring persons with disabilities. The meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Knab manages several state grants and one federal grant at USFSP, with annual funding of over $2 million. He worked with the prior Governor’s Commission on Disabilities and the Florida Department of Education to begin a pilot program, STING RAY, at USFSP. The program enables area youth with intellectual disabilities to have a post-secondary educational experience with their peers, in preparation for long-term, sustainable employment. The STING RAY program was the catalyst for a federal grant that supports the expansion of these programs throughout the state.

USFSP was chosen as a site to host the first quarterly meeting of 2013 to showcase the university campus and its extensive research and development in the area of youth with disabilities and employment. Students enrolled in the STING RAY program will meet and greet the commissioners anddescribe their experiences at USFSP.

“I’m pleased the commission chose USF St. Petersburg for its first quarterly meeting of the year,” Knab said. “A lot of great things are happening at USFSP and having this meeting here will help spread the word.”


Governor Appoints Knab to Statewide Commission

Jordan Knab, principal investigator on several research grants headquartered at USF St. Petersburg, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities. Knab is one of 13 new appointments made by the governor.

Knab has worked extensively on the development of policies and programs for students with disabilities at all levels. He is the principal investigator for Project 10: Transition Education Network; the Florida Consortium on Postsecondary Education and Intellectual Disabilities; and the SEDNET Statewide Administration Project.

In his new role on the commission, he will work with the other commissioners to identify barriers in state and local programs that hinder employment for persons with disabilities. The commission will then recommend changes to Florida laws, policies and procedures that can help remove those barriers and increase employment and job opportunities for persons with disabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by the recent downturn in the economy. Between October 2008 and June 2011, the rate of job loss among workers with disabilities exceeded that of workers without disabilities by nine percent. The commission will identify strategies to close this gap.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to represent transition age individuals with disabilities throughout Florida in their quest for gainful, competitive employment and independent living,” Knab said. “We have learned a great deal through our projects and research here at USF St. Petersburg, and I look forward to sharing that information with the Commission.”

Knab leads federal and state grants with a current annual operating budget of more than $2.2 million.  One of the projects directly assists Florida’s school districts in serving students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Another project addresses the social, academic, and employment needs of students with intellectual disabilities transitioning out of high school with a special diploma.

K-16 Initiatives Expands with Federal Grant

While the part mentors play in the overall K-16 Educational Initiatives may seem small amid a myriad of programs, their contributions to services for students with intellectual disabilities represent what a newly funded collaboration at USF St. Petersburg is striving for statewide.

“The stigma that surrounds students that are developmentally or intellectually disabled is really gone,” said Adam DePrimo, an anthropology major and social mentor for Project STING RAY, one of the programs at USFSP helping students with intellectual disabilities transition out of high school.

With a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the team at the K-16 Educational Initiatives in the College of Education have set out to change the standards of transition student education. Their statewide collaborative effort, called the Florida Consortium on Postsecondary Education and Intellectual Disabilities, will build resources for existing and future programs, including Project STING RAY at USF St. Petersburg.

The consortium’s programs address the social, professional and academic needs of students with intellectual disabilities transitioning out of high school with a special diploma.

With inclusivity at the foundation of the initiatives, mentors such as DePrimo help include the program’s students in university life; they’ve gone swimming, played ping-pong in the student lounge and eaten lunch together at the Tavern. Academic mentor and psychology major Rachel Baumsteiger helps her mentee and classmate with studying and setting academic goals.

“I think there are also the benefits of knowing someone, and we’re becoming friends,” Baumsteiger said. “I think that’s definitely a benefit to both of us, and it should be a lasting friendship. It’s a win-win for me because when I go over the class materials with her, it definitely forces me to learn it better.”

Both DePrimo and Baumsteiger say they have established lasting friendships with the students they mentor.

“The key to this whole program is that the students’ classroom is the whole university campus,” said Federico Valadez, a regional transition representative for Project 10, the Florida Department of Education’s statewide discretionary project for the transition of students with disabilities that is headquartered at USF St. Petersburg.
Led by USFSP, the consortium is working with nine Florida colleges and universities to create model programs that will lead to a credential for students with intellectual disabilities and provide access to a postsecondary institution.

“What K-16 Initiatives is trying to do,” said Vivian Fueyo, dean of the College of Education, “is expand the impact of what great colleges of education have already been doing; to provide support to individuals in the community with children and young people with disabilities.”

The consortium pools resources with partnering institutions to align programs with the criteria in the national Department of Education’s initiative on Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities into Higher Education (TPSID). The consortium is also working to establish a curriculum that meets the approval of statewide employers.

“These are students that otherwise would not have access to any type of options at a postsecondary level,” said Michael Shaffer, K-16 Initiatives project coordinator. “This is giving options and access to postsecondary education that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Participating students receive individualized education plans that are continually adapted to suit their personal goals. Initiatives’ staff members are also working to provide students the opportunity to apply for financial aid in the future.

The K-16 Initiatives staff of 14 professionals and 12 student mentors is led by principal investigator Jordan Knab and co-principal investigator Harold “Bill” Heller. Both manage and administer the transition programs within the College of Education.

Special diploma programs in public schools allow students with intellectual disabilities to stay in high school until age 22 even if they have met the graduation requirements by age 18. The transition programs provide another option.

“A lot of times they’re sitting in classes with people who are much younger than them instead of being allowed to continue with their friends who they have been naturally included with,” Shaffer said. “Because we’re coming up now with a generation that has not had a distinct division of students with disabilities and students without disabilities, we’re creating a natural inclusivity that we never had before.”