Start on Success
Start on Success (SOS) was launched in 1994 in response to the high unemployment and underemployment rate among people with disabilities. The program offers students an early introduction to the workplace and enables them to learn skills that will allow for a future of independence and self sufficiency. It also demonstrates to employers that these young people can become a highly valued resource in the workplace.
“As a result of our collaboration with NOD’s Start on Success Program and its focus on employment for people with disabilities, many students who might otherwise have dropped out of school or defaulted to day-habilitation programs are now being provided with internships which lead directly to jobs in community work settings.”
Superintendent, New York City Department of Education
Youth with disabilities are twice as likely to drop out of high school and four times more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system than non-disabled youth.* Many of these young people, grow up in and around poverty, lack career-focused role models, and, because of their disability, assume they will never be able to acquire a meaningful job or career.
NOD launched the Start on Success program to help young people facing these obstacles to connect them with the idea of a career future, and to build in them the confidence that they can be successful. The program offers paid internships, tailored educational experiences, and involvement with caring adults as teachers, mentors, and supervisors.
Start on Success is now operational in more than 30 schools nationally, and students who take part in the program go on to post-secondary education or employment at a rate of 75 to 85 percent.
*From the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Y)
Start on Success students spend a portion of their day in paid, entry-level positions in major community businesses—typically hospitals, universities, or other organizations offering a wide variety of professional positions—and the rest of their day in continued academic instruction working toward their diploma. Students are matched to internships that take full advantage of their skills, their interests, and their longer-term career goals. Job site supervisors serve as mentors, providing a constant source of guidance and support to young people in need of dependable adults in their lives.
The project has evolved to mix new sites dependent on local private support, and established sites sustained by public funding. This diversity of constituent projects provides both a foundation from which to grow and learning opportunities for developing a wide range of practices, curricula, and policies.
Now operational in eight states across the United States, the Start on Success program has demonstrated success on multiple levels:
- While 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, 75-85 percent of Start on Success students go on to post-secondary education or employment.
- Project sites have shown significant in-school gains among SOS students, including a 20 percent gain in attendance and graduation over the general and special education populations.
- Since receiving leadership support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in 2008, the number of students we serve annually has increased nearly 40 percent, to a total of more than 400.
- In its first 15 years, Start on Success has more than doubled the odds that participating high-school students with disabilities will go on to further education or employment.
These results are achieved by combining three major elements. Each one of these basic elements, done well, will open paths to a satisfying career for many students with disabilities. But when they are combined, the result is something genuinely transformative.
Education and Programming that Breaks the Mold
At its best, SOS creates a fundamentally different kind of learning experience from the traditional high-school classroom. It’s based in the community; it exposes students to successful peers and role models; and it broadens their daily routine beyond anything a conventional education would have envisioned.
Transition Services that Work Together in a Coordinated Way
Plenty of public and community-based agencies offer services for young people with disabilities. But these various services don’t always work in concert. SOS builds and sustains partnerships among many public agencies and organizations and keeps them involved throughout the course of each student’s transition.
A Business Community Fully Engaged in the Project
In SOS, students spend a portion of their day in paid, entry-level positions at local businesses. Their job-site supervisors are company managers who often become mentors, career guides, and skill developers. To be certain that the student interns provide valuable service to the companies, and that the supervisors contribute to a positive difference in student’s lives, companies need to be thoroughly involved in the design, execution, and evaluation of every SOS effort.