Monday, February 11, 2013
Ask the Expert: Nate Neeley
Travel Training Coordinator for Chicago Public Schools
What is your background?
I actually have a background in English and Psychology. I started my professional career teaching high school English and became intrigued with doing something to assist students with disabilities as I saw they were not receiving all the accommodations and modifications needed to succeed.
How did you become a travel trainer?
I got the opportunity to be a job developer assisting students with disabilities in finding and retaining employment. I was able to find competitive employment opportunities for my students, but they were not able to travel independently. Therefore, I began travel training out of a necessity to fulfill my job responsibilities. I quickly realized the importance of being able to access the community successfully and safely. It is the fundamental precursor to achieving self-determined transition outcomes in education, competitive employment, independent living and community integration.
What training have you received?
My initial training came from experiences in the field individualizing the process to meet the needs of each student. I started travel training 17 years ago and was unaware of any formal training. I have since been educated by ESPA's courses online and received certificates from participating in ESPA's three-day training sessions [Introduction to Travel Training]. However, I do believe that one has to provide this instruction in the community to learn how to be a competent travel trainer.
Tell us about your current position.
I am currently the Travel Training Coordinator for Chicago Public Schools. However, I would first like to talk about what precipitated this position. As a Transition Specialist, I was given the task of creating a Travel Training model six years ago for one of our specialty schools in the district that provides instruction exclusively to students with disabilities. The principal wanted to eliminate some of the yellow buses servicing the school and most importantly increase the student outcomes. The school actually had a parking lot specifically for its buses and vans. That parking lot is now a park dedicated by the alderman where the students can socialize and do composting. The pilot program was so successful in its initial year that two of our other specialty schools began participating in the second year. I began advocating to have the program become centralized to have a greater impact on students throughout the district. We have been able to train over 350 students with over a 95% success rate since inception of the program six years ago. The district allowed us to go citywide this year with the hiring of six travel trainers and I manage the day-to-day execution of the program. I am currently on a "road tour" presenting at all the case manager meetings to educate the educators on the benefits of participating in this process for our students with disabilities. I also attend parent group meetings to get feedback and have held a panel discussion in collaboration with the RTA and ESPA for parents, employers, educators and students. I meet with my team members weekly to make sure we are providing safe and efficient instruction. The intellectual properties that I created for this program to monitor the progression of a student during training is modified to meet each person’s needs. I provide case studies and consistently strategize with my travel trainers to make sure the instruction being provided is individualized. Since this is the first year of our citywide model, a lot of time is spent revising or creating forms, marketing the program and meeting with our legal team to ensure that we are compliant. I still enjoy being "hands-on" by participating in the environmental analysis of a student's route, shadowing my travel trainers as they implement community based travel instruction with a student, as well as going in the community with them creating scenarios as an exercise in problem solving and implementing contingency plans.
What resources or training tools do you use?
High School Curriculum: Public Transportation: The Route to Freedom, Pictorial Guide: You Can Ride from ESPA's website, Students on the Go: A Travel Training Manual, RideWise Program, and Survival Signs Curriculum just to name a few.
How has receiving travel training services affected the lives of students in Chicago Public Schools?
In every possible way imaginable! I have seen students blossom after being able to travel like their peers without disabilities. It increases their self-esteem, self-advocacy and self-determination. The students we have trained access the community for recreational, employment and educational opportunities. It provides skills across academic and functional areas. Students become less dependent on family and being able to travel independently accentuates their abilities which breeds confidence.
Any final thoughts?
I am extremely excited about the Transportation Education curriculum ESPA, the Regional Transportation Authority and CPS are currently collaborating to create. This curriculum has the potential to assist in providing knowledge and awareness to students with disabilities, their families, champions of our cause, educators and individuals in the transit industry.