One of NWTC’s values is “Everyone Has Worth,” and one program that highlights this is the Learning for Independence (LFI) program.
LFI is a collaboration between the college and Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency 7 (CESA 7). This transition program provides educational opportunities to students ages 18-21 with disabilities.
The program helps students train for and find jobs after graduation and around 80% have done so, up from 15% to 20% about a decade ago. Some former LFI participants are working in the fields of security, retail, childcare and nursing assistant care, and at least six students have completed degrees or certificates at NWTC.
The hope the program helps provide is vital for students.
“Before the program, I didn’t want to learn or talk about my disability,” said Ty M., a 2019-2020 LFI graduate. “Now I embrace myself and love who I am. I feel I can do any job I want to do.”
Traditionally, students with disabilities stay in the high school setting until age 21 and then might get jobs in a workshop setting. However, as attitudes and opportunities are changing, parents and families are seeking other options.
According to Learning for Independence Program Coordinator Mary Derginer, LFI helps provide that.
“LFI fills a social need,” she said. “It provides a vision where society could see the worth of the students… they are able to contribute. They aren’t just people that need to be helped. They can be participating members of the community and the job force. Some will need resources, but they are contributing members of the economic workforce, of the economy.”
The LFI program provides students with a variety of career development paths and job training experiences. Attending classes on campus offers the students an opportunity to study in an age-appropriate setting, foster their skills, interests and abilities while boosting their confidence and motivation to self-advocate and grow in independence.
Former student Grace H. said LFI is an “excellent program that gave me the opportunity to take classes like photography and Photoshop. I would not have had this opportunity without this program.”
The Learning for Independence program is pivotal to student success, teachers say.
“I really enjoy teaching in the program because I love seeing the students’ reaction when they learn something new,” photography instructor Kristie Bloch said. “The smiles on their faces are the absolute best. It’s so rewarding to see the students thrive in this atmosphere and experience their happiness.”
The collaboration between Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency 7 (CESA 7) and Corporate Training and Economic Development at NWTC won a 2020 LERN Contract Training Award for Excellence in Reaching Special Populations. The Learning Resources Network (LERN) is a nonprofit association that offers information and consulting expertise to providers of secondary education, as well as customized training.