When Dream Teens began in early June, the initial plan was for a program of virtual lessons designed to help protect the participants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucas Crager, the Easterseals Arc staff member who directs Dream Teens, still wanted to offer some work experiences, however, and developed a plan for
on-site volunteering at Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana.
Crager emphasized that volunteers at Community Harvest will observe strict precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Students will be provided with necessary personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, and they will practice social distancing.
“The staff will also follow these precautions as well,” Crager said. “There will be hand sanitizer and washing hands regularly. We will be in small groups and working closely with all participants to ensure safety is at the forefront.”
Shortly after launching the virtual program and planning the volunteer opportunities, the program evolved again to include an in-person option, initially at Easterseals Arc’s Projects Drive Group, then moving to space at the Ramada Plaza on Washington Center Road beginning July 6. (Mini Dreamers also will be offered at Ramada Plaza this summer.)
Crager and the other Easterseals Arc staff members who teach Dream Teens have experience in being flexible. In March, when schools across the country ended in-person classes as COVID-19 spread, the team quickly developed a new routine using videoconference lessons with Pre-ETS students at seven area high schools. The routines and techniques — and many of the same students — will continue in Dream Teams.
In the virtual format, staff members deliver packets of lesson materials to students on Mondays and Wednesdays. As part of both Pre-ETS and Dream Teens, staff also deliver lunches each day, if students wanted food as part of the program. Those lunches are donated by two Fort Wayne restaurants, Umi Seafood and Sushi and Elmo’s Pizza and Subs.
The virtual classes are 30-minute one-on-one remote sessions. How often students meet for sessions with staff members is up to the students, Crager said. “We could do every day, or every other day, or whatever worked for the student.”
Sixty-four students took part in Pre-ETS; 38 are enrolled in Dream Teens.
With every student, the staff tries to tailor instruction as closely as possible to their interests and plans.
“If a student is looking to go on to post-secondary, like college, we would try to develop a curriculum around that, to educate them on what their opportunities are,” Crager said. They also developed many lesson plans for students who want to find jobs right after high school. “It could be on hygiene in the workplace. It could be on your appearance. It could be a job that you might be interested in. It could be looking up the local job market. If a student wants to get a job after high school, we would help them get ready for that job.”
Dream Teens is open to teens and young adults, ages 14 to 22, with an IEP, 504 Plan or other disability documentation.