Category Archives: Institute on Community Integration

ICI’s Check & Connect marks 25th year improving K-12 student engagement

c&cCheck & Connect, the K-12 student engagement intervention developed at the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) in CEHD, turns 25 this year, and ICI is marking the occasion by holding the first-ever Check & Connect National Conference on October 7-8 at the University of Minnesota. Check & Connect is a comprehensive intervention designed to enhance student engagement at school and with learning for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12. The conference will bring together leading experts and practitioners from around the country to address the topic of student engagement among at-risk youth, share lessons learned, and gain tools for implementing and sustaining Check & Connect to support youth in reaching their goals and graduating from high school.

Check & Connect began in 1990 when the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs awarded a five-year grant to enable a group of ICI researchers to develop a dropout prevention program in collaboration with the Minneapolis Public Schools. The project targeted about 200 middle school students with emotional/behavioral disorders and/or learning disabilities for intervention, with mentors checking their students’ performance of alterable variables weekly (e.g., attendance, behavior, academics) and providing timely intervention focused on problem solving, skill building, and support from school personnel, families, and community service providers to enhance engagement. The program succeeded. Compared to control groups, many more students who received the Check & Connect intervention stayed in school and were, by grade 9, on track to graduate within five years.

Since 1990, Check & Connect has been implemented in K-12 schools in over 27 states, including statewide use in three states, and in other countries. Of the dropout prevention interventions reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse in 2006, Check & Connect was the only program found to have strong evidence of positive effects on staying in school. It has also been adapted for use in other settings, including postsecondary education and the juvenile justice system. One of the model’s developers, Sandy Christenson, Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Educational Psychology, notes the importance of Check & Connect’s approach to the whole student: “Engaging students is more than promoting academic engaged time or attendance. We must pay attention to students’ emotional and intellectual responses to school in order to improve their schooling experiences and school completion. Enhancing students’ sense of belonging and motivation to learn is a core feature of Check & Connect.”

The Check & Connect National Conference will be held at the McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, on October 7-8. It is for professionals interested in learning more about student engagement in general and Check & Connect specifically, as well as current sites implementing Check & Connect’s model. In addition, on October 6, there will be a pre-conference training offering a condensed version of Check & Connect’s typical two-day implementation training for those considering or beginning use of Check & Connect. For information on the implementation manual, training, and consultation services, visit

FFI and registration visit Or contact or 612/624-2097.

Thurlow receives special education lifetime achievement award

1Martha L Thurlow web quality photoMartha Thurlow, director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) in the college’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI), has been selected to receive the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC) J. E. Wallace Wallin Lifetime Achievement Award for 2015. The award will be presented to her during an awards ceremony
on April 8 at the CEC 2015 Convention & Expo in San Diego.

“This award recognizes an individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities,” according to CEC.

In 1990, Dr. Thurlow was part of the team that founded NCEO, a research center that provides national leadership in designing and building educational assessments and accountability systems that appropriately monitor educational results for all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs). From 1990 to 1999, she worked as an assistant and associate director for NCEO and in 1999 became its director, a role she has maintained for the past 15 years.

In a nomination letter for the award, ICI director David R. Johnson observed, “For the past 40-plus years, Dr. Thurlow has established herself as one of the pillars of special education services in the United States. She has amassed a body of research and professional publications that has served to influence and guide public policy and professional practice. Her work has influenced the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state legislatures, state education agencies, institutions of higher education, and schools throughout the nation. Dr. Thurlow is one of those rare academics who is able to comfortably integrate research, policy, and practice, to achieve broad levels of impact on the life circumstances of children with disabilities and their families.”

Bruininks receives Lifetime Achievement Award for disability work

Bob Bruininks (center) with current ICI director David R. Johnson and AUCD President Leslie Cohen.
Bob Bruininks (center) with current ICI director David R. Johnson and AUCD president Leslie Cohen.

Former University president and CEHD dean emeritus Robert Bruininks received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of University Centers on Developmental Disabilities (AUCD) on November 11 during its annual conference in Washington, D.C. The award is given “… to individuals making a lifetime commitment to serving people with developmental disabilities and their families,” and includes recognition of his work as founding director of the college’s Institute on Community Integration.

The institute, which marks its 30th anniversary next year, is a national leader in improving services, policies, and practices that impact people with disabilities across the lifespan.

In a nomination letter for the award, current ICI director David R. Johnson noted, “Over the past four decades, Dr. Bruininks has established himself as one of the pillars of disability research and policy in the United States. He has amassed a body of research and professional publications that has served to influence and guide professional practice, as well as disability policy, with a specific focus on intellectual and developmental disabilities…. He is one of those rare academics who is able to comfortably integrate research, practice, and policy to achieve broad levels of impact on the life circumstances of individuals with disabilities and their families.”

ICI’s Amy Hewitt part of training team in Malawi

Dr. Amy Hewitt, from the Institute on Community Integration and Minnesota LEND, recently completed a visit to Africa where she participated in a collaborative training project with long-time colleague Mikala Mukongolwa of the Baulini Project and Dr. Jason Paltzer, director of the Kingdom Workers Lutheran Health Alliance. The team made stops in Zambia and Malawi, where they taught volunteers from Kingdom Workers how to assess the needs of, and implement strategies to improve the lives of, children and adults with disabilities in a number of southern villages in Malawi, where the need for education and training is great. For more see the Association of University Centers on Disabilities Member Spotlight.

ICI collaborates with educators in India to improve elementary education

Faculty and students from Avinashilingam University for Women in Coimbatore, India, have arrived at the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) to work with ICI staff on strategies for helping students of all abilities and backgrounds in India to reach a level of education that will make them competitive in the job market and in everyday life. Since 2013, ICI’s Brian Abery and Renáta Tichá have been working with Avinashilingam University, the Coimbatore school district in Tamil Nadu, India, and school districts in Minnesota on a project titled, “A Sustainable ‘Response to Intervention’ Model for Successful Inclusion of Students with Disabilities: An India-U.S. Partnership.” It is focusing on adapting the Response to Intervention educational model developed in the U.S. to the needs of elementary students with and without disabilities from underprivileged backgrounds and low-achieving schools in India.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a school-wide process that can help teachers ensure that all their students are making adequate academic progress. This project is focused on identifying and solving the unique challenges of adapting and implementing RTI in another country, culture, and education system. The project recently completed reading and math assessments on 2,500 students in grades 1-4 from nine Indian schools serving children from low socio-economic backgrounds. The purpose of the assessments was to have baseline data available as the project moves forward with assigning students to instructional intervention groups, and for later comparisons of student reading and math performance after the implementation of the RTI framework. Ultimately, the collaborating Coimbatore schools will serve as model demonstration sites for other schools in Tamil Nadu, building local capacity and allowing for potential scale-up in using RTI.

“This project is forging a sustainable partnership between the University of Minnesota and Avinashilingam University that is benefitting the participating schools here in Minnesota as well as in India,” observes Renáta Tichá, project coordinator. “It’s providing faculty, staff, and students with mutual learning, research and training opportunities regarding students at risk for, and with, disabilities, as well as improving the education system in several low-performing elementary schools in Tamil Nadu.”

From October 14 to November 14, two  faculty and two graduate students from Avinashilingam University are visiting Minnesota to learn about RTI. They will spend half their time at ICI learning to use assessment data to assign students to appropriate instructional groups, to monitor their academic progress, and to understand school-wide implementation of RTI. The rest of the time the visitors will be embedded in two Minnesota school districts to observe the different components of RTI (assessment, instruction, and data meetings) in action and to practice some of the procedures and strategies.

This three-year, $250,000 project is funded by the United States-India Foundation through the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. FFI, contact Renáta at or 612-624-5776, or Brian at or 612-625-5592.

Institute staff work with high schoolers from Minnesota and Costa Rica on climate change

Costa_Rica_student_groupFor the past three weeks staff from the college’s Institute on Community Integration have been in Costa Rica working with high school students from Minnesota and Costa Rica on student-led Inclusive Service Learning projects addressing climate change. The work was part of the institute project, American Youth Leadership Program: Learning to Serve, Serving to Learn, which pairs high school students with and without disabilities from the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, with Costa Rican students from Liceo de Poás High School, for a year of inclusive service learning.


The Minnesota students spent the past three weeks in Costa Rica partnering with the Costa Rican students on a number of projects. These included presenting a series of lessons on climate change, the local watershed, and recycling to over 250 elementary school students and 50 members of a community center for senior citizens; working with the city of San Rafael to increase awareness of a new recycling program through community education; and creating community art designed to attract attention to the issues associated with climate change.


The program gives students an opportunity to meet community needs while also developing leadership skills, expanding their cross-cultural knowledge, and overcoming social barriers that often separate students with and without disabilities. To learn more see or contact Brian Abery ( or Renata Ticha (

Hewitt begins as president of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Hewitt_Amy_print_quality_photoAmy Hewitt, director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living in the college’s Institute on Community Integration, began her term as president of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) on July 1, 2014. With over 5,000 members, AAIDD promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices, and universal human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

ICD Alumna honored with Best Dissertation Award in Social and Behavioral Sciences 2014


Camelia Hostinar, (ICD 2013), has won the University of Minnesota Graduate School’s Best Dissertation Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences for 2014. The winners of this prestigious award are chosen for the substantive quality and the methodology of the dissertation, while selection is based on the originality and importance of the research, and the potential for the student to make an unusually significant contribution to the discipline. Hostinar now holds a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Policy Research  at Northwestern University.

Upon learning of the award, Hostinar congratulated her faculty mentor, Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor and Director of the Institute of Child Development, saying,  “This truly is a joint award. Without your amazing mentorship during the whole dissertation process, this never would have happened!”

Hostinar’s dissertation is entitled: The Impacts of Social Support and Early Life Stress on Stress Reactivity in Children and Adolescents. The Best Disseration Award carries a $1,000. honorarium. Congratulations, Cam!



ICI and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa offer youth entrepreneurship program

American Indians have a long tradition of entrepreneurship, and for the past five years the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) has partnered with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) and the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota, to build on this tradition with today’s youth. Through a summer program titled The Young American Indian Entrepreneur (YAIE) Academy, American Indian high school students from northeastern Minnesota have had the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial interests, and grow as individuals.

1groupThe YAIE Academy provides an intensive, six-day residential academic- and activity-based program for 15 American Indian students entering grades 11 and 12 to learn the “ins and outs” of becoming an entrepreneur. (See some of this year’s students in the photo.) Students are usually from northeastern Minnesota, and the academy takes place at FDLTCC. Activities are based on the Young American Indian Entrepreneur, a curriculum that ICI co-published with FDLTCC in 2010. Students give presentations as they develop creative ideas for small businesses, work in teams to create potential products, and visit local Native entrepreneurs at their businesses. Business-like behavior is expected from students: timeliness, appropriate dress, preparation before class, asking thought-provoking questions of guest business men and women, attentiveness when auditing college classes, and learning the importance of teamwork and giving encouragement to peers. The week culminates with each student presenting a three-minute “elevator pitch” on his or her small business idea to faculty, parents, staff, and judges. FDLTCC faculty, administrators, and staff are mentors, teachers, and judges, and FDLTCC students, many of whom are business majors, act as dorm monitors and support-staff for the academy participants. Over the years, community members have also become mentors and presenters.

“We have created a strong program,” says the project’s director at ICI, Jean Ness. “The daily schedule runs from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with later evening time for journal writing and class preparation. By the end of the week, students are exhausted, but proud of their accomplishments.” She also adds, “It’s inspiring to watch the students as they begin crafting their ideas of businesses that stem from their passions and interests. But, the Academy is about much more than entrepreneurship. Youth learn self-confidence, cultural awareness, self-advocacy, teamwork, career awareness, and how to use their strengths to support themselves. I often see timid students arrive on Sunday night and by Friday afternoon they are prepared to present their elevator pitch to a crowd of 100 or more. Several students apply to return year after year.”

This summer marks the sixth, and possibly final, summer of the academy. It has been funded as part of a Title III Project from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education. “Unfortunately, Title III funding for the Academy is ending, and unless a sponsor comes forward this will be our last summer,” says Ness.

American Indian students currently entering their junior or senior year of high school may still apply for the Summer 2014 Academy by contacting Suzan Desmond at or 218-879-0701 by May 24 and requesting an application packet. FFI on the program, contact Jean Ness at or 612-625-5322.

ICI staff elected to APSE board

Jeffrey A. Nurick
Jeffrey A. Nurick

Kelly Nye-Lengerman LGSWThe board of Minnesota APSE (Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst) recently elected ICI’s Kelly Nye-Lengerman as Board Co-President and Jeffrey Nurick as Board Secretary. Nye-Lengerman’s term is two years (May 2014-May 2016) and Nurick’s is one year (May 2014-2015). The mission of Minnesota APSE is to improve and expand integrated employment opportunities, services, and outcomes for persons experiencing disabilities.

ICI Tells the History of Transition Planning for Minnesota’s Youth with Disabilities

Before 1980, an estimated 70% of adults with disabilities nationwide were unemployed. The employment opportunities that were available were most often related to arts, crafts, and cleaning. They also were most often gender based, that is, women could cook and clean and men could make bird houses, stools and other wooden crafts to be sold for funding to continue future programs, not for individual income. This began changing in Minnesota in 1980 when the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning, and the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, began addressing transition issues – those issues related to the movement of students with disabilities from high school into the workplace and postsecondary education. Because of transition-related policy initiatives implemented in Minnesota in 1984-87, the rate of employment of young adults with disabilities in the state greatly increased, surpassing the national average, and the type of employment options began to expand. Those changes, and the stories of some of the key people involved with them, are the subject of a new oral history project at the College’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI) titled, “Transition from School to Work for Minnesota’s Youth with Disabilities.”

The 14-month project, which began in April 2013 with a $6,925 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, will create an oral history sharing the experiences of eight leaders in special education, vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation who were instrumental in bringing about four successful policy and service initiatives supporting the transition of youth with disabilities from secondary education to postsecondary life. The initiatives, which were formalized into state legislation in 1984-87, were: (1) requiring that transition objectives be included in each student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) beginning at age 14; (2) creating the Interagency Office on Transition Services within the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning; (3) creating local Community Transition Interagency Committees statewide; and (4) formally creating the State Transition Interagency Committee. These initiatives not only changed expectations and opportunities for Minnesota youth with disabilities, they influenced policy and practice nationwide, for example when Minnesota’s requirement that transition objectives be included in each student’s IEP was also incorporated into the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The project is led by David R. Johnson, ICI’s director, and consultant Norena Hale. ICI is also part of the story. In the 1980s, numerous ICI staff and others from the University of Minnesota were involved in leading and implementing Minnesota’s efforts in the transition from school to work. For example, ICI trained and evaluated local Community Transition Interagency Committees around the state, and also created a wide range of transition-related best practice resources for use by Minnesota schools and agencies.

“This project provides a remarkable opportunity to document and share with future educators the stories of those persons who, in the 1980s, changed the way schools plan for youth with disabilities to evolve into successful adult citizens,” Norena said.

When completed, the oral histories will be available to the public through the Minnesota Historical Society. FFI on this project, contact Norena at

Largest project to date estimates autism spectrum disorder in Minneapolis Somali and non-Somali children

ASDprojectAbout 1 in 32 Somali children, ages 7-9 in 2010, was identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Minneapolis, according to new data released today by the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). Somali and White children were about equally likely to be identified with ASD in Minneapolis. There is no statistically meaningful difference between the two estimates. Somali and White children were more likely to be identified with ASD than non-Somali Black and Hispanic children.
The Somali and White estimates from Minneapolis were higher than most other communities where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks autism spectrum disorder. The project estimates that 1 in 48 children reviewed in Minneapolis was identified as having ASD.
“We do not know why more Somali and White children were identified as having ASD than Black and Hispanic children in Minneapolis,” said Amy Hewitt, director of the U of M Research and Training Center on Community Living in the Institute on Community Integration and primary investigator on the project. “This project was not designed to answer these questions, and future research is warranted.”
Somali children with ASD were more likely to also have an intellectual disability (e.g., IQ lower than 70) than children with ASD in all other racial and ethnic groups in Minneapolis, according to the project findings.
“Future research can and should build upon these findings to better understand how ASD affects Somali and non-Somali children,” said Hewitt. “This project was not designed to tell us why these differences exist, but its findings support the need for more research on why and how ASD affects Somali and non-Somali children and families differently.”
This project also found that the age at first ASD diagnosis was around five years for Somali, White, Black, and Hispanic children.
“Children with ASD can be reliably diagnosed around 2 years of age,” said Hewitt. “Further research must be done to understand why Minneapolis children with ASD, especially those who also have intellectual disability, are not getting diagnosed earlier.”
To date, this is the largest project to look at the number and characteristics of Somali children with autism spectrum disorder in any U.S. community. However, these findings are limited to Minneapolis, and there are challenges in identifying ASD in small, ethnically diverse groups.

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Pohl receives APA Outstanding Dissertation Award

Pohl_Angie_140wOn August 2, 2013, Angie Pohl, Ph.D., research associate at the Institute on Community Integration, received the 2013 American Psychological Association (APA) Division 16 Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, “The Personal Readiness Evaluation for Postsecondary (PREP): A Development and Validation Study.” She will present her research at the APA annual convention in August 2014 in Washington, D.C.

ICI staff share expertise in the Netherlands, San Francisco, and locally

In April, staff from the College’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI) gave numerous conference presentations, including:

  • Autism Society of Minnesota Annual Conference: Joe Timmons and Barb Kleist, “Residential Services for Individuals with Autism: Considerations for Minnesota”; Sharon Mulé, “Redefining Social Skills: The Move to the Adult World.”
  • AERA Annual Conference: Sheryl Lazarus, Martha Thurlow and Yi-Chen Wu, “Longitudinal Analyses of Effects of Reclassification, Reporting Methods, and Analytical Techniques on Trends in Math Performance of Students with Disabilities”; Chris Bremer and Chris Opsal (with co-presenters), “The Effect of Federal Financial Aid on the Retention of Occupational and Non-Occupational Students at Four Community Colleges.”
  • Netherlands: Angela Amado, eight presentations on community inclusion at one of the largest Dutch agencies for people with disabilities.

NCRRC Hosts National Conference in Chicago

On March 28-29, the North Central Regional Resource Center (NCRRC) at the Institute on Community Integration hosted a national conference in Chicago on fiscal issues and related monitoring requirements contained in Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Delegations representing 21 States/territories and staff from other Regional Resource Centers attended. Kent Hamre and Maureen Hawes co-facilitated the event and the entire NCRRC staff helped host the conference and led sessions.

Hewitt Guest Blogs for AUCD

Hewitt_Amy_140pixels_wAmy Hewitt, director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration, is the April 2013 guest blogger on “Early Career Professionals,” a blog hosted by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). In her April 9 post, titled “Just Some ‘Food for Thought,” she describes her career path in the field of disabilities research and advocacy, and shares some principles that have guided her work.

Nord Among Recipients of Award for Journal Article

Nord_DerekThe American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA) selected Derek Nord of the Institute on Community Integration and his co-authors to receive the second place ARCA Research Award for their article, “Improving the Employment Outcomes of Job Seekers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Training and Mentoring Intervention for Employment Consultants,” which was published in the Journal of Rehabilitation, 78(2) in April 2012. The award will be presented on March 22, 2013 at the American Counseling Association Annual Conference. Nord’s co-authors on the article were John Butterworth, Alberto Migliore, and Amy Gelb.

New juvenile justice project: Making a Map, Finding My Way Back

1_ICIYouth with disabilities, in particular, youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD) and learning disabilities (LD), are overrepresented in correctional facilities across the U.S. They also have a high rate of recidivism. In response to the need to support these youth to make a lasting transition out of the corrections system, the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) is partnering with area organizations and agencies on a new project, Making a Map: Finding My Way Back.
The project brings together ICI, Ramsey County Community Corrections, the non-profit organization Amicus, St. Paul Public Schools, Twin Cities postsecondary programs, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to carry out a comprehensive, evidence-based project supporting juvenile offenders with disabilities who are transitioning from Ramsey County juvenile justice facilities into secondary and postsecondary education, employment, and community programs. The four-year project, funded by a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, began January 1, 2013, and is directed by David R. Johnson and Jean Ness.
Read more.