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.
In 2010, NOD examined what we have learned in creating and developing the SOS project over the course of the past 16 years, from the talented and dedicated teachers, administrators, and students that have made this project so successful. Download "SOS Lessons Learned, 1994 – 2010" (Word DOCX file).
*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.
NOD's guidelines for Start on Success Framework for Transition from School to Work and a number of additional resources are available for download.
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.
We achieve these results by focusing on three core elements:
- Exceptional education and programming
- Well coordinated transition services
- A fully engaged business community
The Corporation for National and Community Service
NOD is part of a team that was awarded a three-year grant by the Corporation for National and Community Service (the agency which funds AmeriCorps) to test ways to include students with disabilities in community service-style opportunities, and identify how those experiences support the students’ ongoing career development.
The Start on Success project was selected as one of the two ‘test projects’ which will inform research on transition from school to work at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. This grant will support SOS sites in New York City and Pittsburgh.
The Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Mentoring Grant
Through the Institute for Educational Leadership, SOS was invited to be part of a multi-city Department of Justice study to explore ways in which mentoring can be used to prevent adjudication and encourage career engagement amongst disadvantaged youth. The Institute for Educational Leadership added a specific focus on youth with disabilities; SOS, like others projects that were included, works with students who have both disabilities and other socioeconomic barriers to career success.
This grant has provided support to SOS sites in Baltimore and New Orleans, and has significantly bolstered our projects’ capacity to provide evidence-based mentoring support and services.