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I Am Self-Advocacy Updates

ECNV is just about to start its second Spring Session of the I Am Self-Advocacy (IASA) Program! For those of you who aren’t familiar, the IASA Program is a Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) focused on helping students with disabilities, ages 14-22, hone their skills in self-advocacy through a combination of individual and group sessions. Funded by the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), this program is offered to students referred by the Fairfax, Alexandria, Leesburg, and Manassas DARS offices.

Typically, this program is offered virtually and runs 8 to 10-weeks 4 times throughout the year. However, ECNV launched a 16-week in-school program session in February at Alexandria City High School that runs in tandem with the virtual program sessions. In this program model, 5 peer mentors are meeting with the students in-person during school hours for their one-on-one sessions. Group sessions are conducted every other week and facilitated by Paul Whitney, who is spearheading this in-school program while providing in-service training for the peer mentors.

Paul observed: Reflecting on these first five weeks of the in-school program, it is apparent this model works on multiple levels. The familiarity the students have with the school and with each other contributes to a greater level of interaction during sessions. This has also been a rewarding vocational opportunity for our peer mentors. I’m excited about the skills they are sharpening and the opportunity to invite additional peer mentors to future program sessions. Finally, we are building valuable community partnerships by working with schools. By catching these students at a critical, transitionary point in their lives, our hope is that this snowballs to providing a greater level of support to those in our community that could really use it. Currently, this model is only offered to Alexandria City High School students. Not only does this model allow for in-person interactions, but it also alleviates the stress of scheduling after school or work hours for these busy young adults and their families.

Regardless of the program model, students work with their peer mentor at a speed and level that is individualized and conducive to their learning. During the weekly group sessions, they take what they have learned and delve deeper into program topics, participating in group activities and debates with their peers. By the end of the program, the students will have put together their own self-advocacy portfolio to include things they learned regarding self-awareness, disability awareness, self-determination, disability rights and responsibilities, how to be assertive, and how to engage allies and be an ally to others.

Students interested in participating in the IASA program should talk to their special education teacher or Employment and Transition Representative (ETR) at their school for assistance. Alternatively, reach out to your local DARS office to get started. All referrals must come from DARS. If you need help making the connection to DARS or have questions, contact the Program Coordinator, Hannah Roberts at hannahr@ecnv.org or call us at ECNV 703-525-3268.