“Building Life Skills”

Community High School District 218

  • Support Special Education Programs
  • Build Life and Independence Skills
  • Teach Business and Entrepreneurial Tactics  

Perhaps one of the more challenging times in a young person’s life is preparing for adulthood after high school. This can be particularly daunting for students with disabilities. They suddenly leave a support system that is secure and familiar and step into a new, unfamiliar routine that can seem scary and overwhelming.

Fortunately, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and secondary transition, disabled students can continue to receive the services they need to ensure a successful shift into postsecondary education or training, employment, and independent living.

Meet Kerry McNicholas, Vocational Coordinator, and her colleague Alison Wilde, District Coordinator. Together they oversee the Adult Transition Program (ATP) for Community High School – District 218 in Oak Lawn, IL. Established in 2008, ATP is serving approximately 105 students with disabilities, ages 18-22, and have grown by 59% since 2013 – with continued growth anticipated.

ATP focuses on life and vocational skills that some students still need to develop after high school. The program is designed to teach them essential entrepreneurial skills required to run and operate a business, with a curriculum that advances their skills in reading, math, social communication, listening, and problem- solving. Comprised of a student-led apparel, High 5, and greeting card business, along with 8 special ed teachers and over 30 job coaches, students receive the onsite training and experience they need to achieve a more independent adult life.

Hands-on Experience Teaching Real-World Skills

With the goal of establishing a thriving student-run business for students with disabilities to help them earn the credentials needed for self-sufficiency, Kerry McNicholas discovered the VariQuest Suite in 2015 and started to invest in the tools. Today, with the help of state grants and profits from their High 5 business, their Adult Transition Program is fully equipped with the entire VariQuest product line, consisting of the Perfecta® Series Poster Design System, Cutout Maker 1800, Motiva® 400, Cold Laminator 2510, Design Center 2300, and Engage Every Learner® Content. Together these tools support students in their quest for acquiring real world skills with easy-to-use visual and kinesthetic technology that’s providing firsthand business experience.

“It’s an entire program embedded into their day. Students are learning functional skills needed for community college, a job, everyday life” says Ms. Wilde. And they’re having fun while they work and learn, using the tools to create greeting cards, bulletin boards, apparel tags, posters, bumper stickers, award plaques and so much more!

“It’s a Skill Set That’s Learned”

…says Ms. Wilde when asked what students are gaining through their VariQuest hands-on experience. “It’s about making sure they understand the task and ask the right questions. It’s a hidden curriculum where problems come up they must solve which forces them to ask the right questions. Everything is so applicable and will be put to great use when they leave the program.” Students are building their business-knowledge skill set with the help of the VariQuest tools, and these skills include:

  • Marketing & Advertising
  • Accounting (tracking payments, writing invoices, counting money, etc.)
  • Social Media
  • Communication (writing a proper email, interviewing for a job, etc.)

Not only do the student workers serve District 218, but their local community as well. According to Kerry, “People seek them out and approach them. They’re always creating new products.” In fact, their High 5 apparel business, since 2014, has been providing goods and services for special occasions, sports & school activities, golf outings, charity walks, business events and more!

variquest case study community high school isd 218

It goes without saying, their greeting card business is always booming as well! Students create cards for birthdays, holidays, baby showers, get well wishes, and so much more! And at the heart of it all is the VariQuest Cutout Maker, used to cut a variety of shapes, tags, and letters in minutes.

Adult Life After ATP

As students transition out of the program, ATP staff continues to offer support services – providing job coaches/onsite trainers, transportation, uniforms, special shoes, and other things necessary for them to work. Profits made from their student-run business help fund these services, along with other program needs like supplies and equipment upgrades. They also use some of their profits to give back to the program – hosting special events like a winter dance, as their way of rewarding the students.

As for the students themselves, many are achieving great things in their adult life! One student runs her own jewelry business, another student trains employees at a restaurant, one is happily working at a chiropractic office, one was recently awarded ‘Employee of the Month’, and the list goes on! Some even find their way back to the program as a mentor for incoming students. “[The] students are so reliable and hardworking” says Roger Ford – district maintenance personnel.

So, what’s next for the Adult Transition Program (ATP) of District 218? According to Kerry, “More staff, more students, more creativity, more growth, and eventually their own store front!”