Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, pp. 30-34
In this next section, Visions looks at the potential of the clubhouse as a base for supported education, through a series of interviews with clubhouses in various parts of British Columbia, including Pathways in Richmond, Langley Stepping Stone, and the clubhouse based at CMHA Mid-Island in Nanaimo. We asked staff at all of these locations a series of questions relating to the what each was currently doing and their hopes for the future. In answering the questions, clubhouse staff involved clubhouse members who were currently undertaking or preparing to enter post-secondary education.
According to Dave McDonald, Executive Director of Richmond CMHA, the host of Pathways Clubhouse, the International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD) standards have always reflected supported education as a worthwhile goal for clubhouse development. But in the past few years, there has been more activity in this area, and at the recent faculty meeting for the ICCD last fall in New York City, there was much greater emphasis put on this issue.
While employment has always been a central focus of clubhouse activity, the feeling reflected at this meeting, and throughout the clubhouse community, is that too many people with mental illness have become stuck in entry-level positions. Going back to school — not just getting one’s GED (Grade 12 Graduation Equivalency Diploma), but going back to college or university — is therefore increasingly recognized as a way out of this ‘entry-level trap,’ also referred to as the ‘Four F’s’ phenomenon, where consumers are offered jobs related to ‘food, filth (janitorial), filing (secretarial) and flowers.’ According to McDonald, in the future, the clubhouse accreditation process will be taking a much closer look at what individual clubhouses are doing in the area of education, whether that’s supporting people inside or outside the clubhouse.
The questions put to Pathways Clubhouse were answered by Susan Knight, Manager of the clubhouse, and by Scott Woodburn who has been a member of Pathways Clubhouse for 6 years. He is currently enrolled at Kwantlen University College pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree. Susan has been on the faculty of the ICCD since 1995.
Visions: What is the impetus within the clubhouse movement towards giving education an equal amount of attention as employment?
Pathways: The clubhouse movement is definitely putting a huge emphasis on education now. The Clubhouse Standard #26 addresses this issue and it states: “The clubhouse assists members to further their vocational goals by helping them take advantage of adult education opportunities in the community. In addition, clubhouses provide in-house educational programs that significantly utilize the teaching and tutoring skills of members.” When the ICCD certifies clubhouses, the number of members pursuing educational opportunities as well as members employed in transitional, supported and independent jobs is measured to determine the efficacy of the clubhouse.
Visions: What kinds of strategies has your clubhouse tried in the past with respect to supported education (for people both within and outside the clubhouse)?
Scott: Pathways Clubhouse has set up an education area where we post members’ pictures along with a profile on what type of education they are involved in, and where members can access a computer and do their homework in quiet. We have also set up members with other members or staff for tutoring. We have helped members to access financial aid and have gone to school with them for orientation and to sign-up for classes. We have also set them up with the school’s disability office. Recently we put out a survey to our membership to see if members were interested in having any in-house, formal classes offered. The response was yes, most members were interested in getting their GED and career planning courses, and liked the idea of being able to take those classes at Pathways.
Visions: What kinds of barriers do clubhouse members see as standing in their way as they consider going back to school?
Scott: I found age to be a huge barrier. Because I was sick in my late teens and early 20’s, I am much older than most of the people in my classes. I really have to try to relate to my classmates on their level, but I feel like I don’t have that much in common with them. Some symptoms of my illness are huge barriers too, for example, loss of concentration and motivation. I also feel afraid to re-enter society — sometimes I feel like society has forsaken me, so I will forsake society. It’s hard to see the end of the road sometimes. I wonder to myself: ‘I’ve tried many times, and am I going to make it this time?’ I’m no longer motivated by material things; I could be happy just reading and learning at my own pace, but I also have to struggle to get back my ambition. Another symptom of my illness is grandiose ideas, so I really have to focus on doing practical small things like homework (as opposed to thinking I am Jesus). I sometimes hear voices too, so obviously this is a barrier.
Visions: What strategies do you use to get beyond some of these barriers?
Scott: One thing is to make sure I have a regular routine and that I keep all of my appointments. I also make sure that I avoid certain situations — for example, busy crowded places make me nervous, so at the end of class, instead of going out the front door I go out the side door. I have coping mechanisms to know what is real and what isn’t. For example if the voices/thoughts I have are negative and repetitive I know they aren’t real and I focus on the teacher. I have to make sure I know the difference between loss of concentration and sheer boredom — I mean, everyone is bored in school sometimes, right? I also know that going to school and keeping my mind busy helps my symptoms. I have also contacted the school’s disability office and they were very helpful financially. They made sure I got a Part-Time Study Grant worth $1200. It’s a federal grant and you can take two classes a year with it; it’s specifically for people with a disability. You can get these forms either at the school’s financial aid office or the disability office. The disability office also gave me a form about accommodations — for example, more time for tests — that I could give to my teachers. I’ve chosen not to do this yet because I really don’t want special treatment just because I have a mental illness. It is also really helpful to me to see another consumer in the hallways. We haven’t talked yet about why we know each other — we just smile and say hello to each other and this is helpful.
Visions: Once people actually enter a school setting, what kinds of support do you envision offering to people to help them make a successful transition?
Scott: At present, I find the computers at the clubhouse really useful to do my homework and access the internet. When the new clubhouse has a quiet space for homework, it will be nice to be able to study here and then eat lunch here with my friends, and to get help if I need it from someone in the clubhouse.
Pathways: The clubhouse plans to offer tutoring, space to do homework, advocacy with the school, help with accessing financial aid, monthly celebration/support dinners, and if the members want, a ‘buddy’ to help with the initial stages of enrolling in school. For example, a staff member (or another member) could go to school with the member initially to get through the confusing part of signing up for classes, finding classes, etc. We could even ‘fill-in’ for members if they were sick and take notes for them so they don’t fall behind and educate teachers about any possible accommodations the member might need in class or to write tests.
Visions: What kinds of resources would your clubhouse need to fully implement your vision?
Pathways: Pathways Clubhouse needs to develop relationships with our local college and continuing education department to hopefully be able to use a teacher to come in regularly to teach classes (especially the GED). Our current staffing level (five funded staff with an average daily attendance of about 60 members) is stretched to the limit providing employment opportunities for transitional employment where we provide on-the-job training and absence coverage [i.e., staff filling for members who are absent and unable to perform job duties in the community], so if funding for more staff is impossible, the relationships we build with educational institutes will be essential to realize any of these plans. We also need to use the talents of our membership to provide tutoring and support for members already enrolled in school. We have done this in the past, but our new clubhouse is still setting up our space so we need to make sure we have an education space. Our members obviously need money to pursue school, so hopefully they will be able to access government grants to pay for their school while maintaining their disability benefits. Some members have been very successful at this and other members have had to get loans (which obviously is scary when you are on a fixed income) so this prevents them from pursuing school.
CMHA Mid-Island Branch, Nanaimo
This interview is based on a conversation with Chris Martens, the Executive Director of the CMHA Mid-Island Branch, which runs a clubhouse as part of the services offered by the agency. Chris is currently working on her Masters in Education in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies.
Visions: How does supported education fit into the framework of your current clubhouse operations?
Chris: Our clubhouse is really just in the start-up phase, but as a part of the entire framework, we look at what the person wants for their life and options for getting there. This usually starts with rebuilding hope and dreams, which seem to be dismantled through the illness cycle. The clubhouse provides a secure environment to try new things without fear of failure, derision or stigma. This leads, hopefully, to a desire and willingness to explore even more. It really increases a person’s confidence when people realize that their participation is valued in the clubhouse and that they have something to offer to the community. This confidence will hopefully grow and strengthen so that when goals are identified, people are strong enough to risk them.
Visions: Where a person has identified education as a goal, what kinds of resources does/would the clubhouse offer that person?
Chris: We offer general support and a quiet place to study if people need it. We have also offered peer tutoring and assistance to connect at the school-district level or college (e.g., to the disability resources office). Mainly, we offer unconditional support.
Visions: What resources would you need to expand your ability to provide education supports at the clubhouse?
Chris: Basically, we lack sufficient staffing to provide a full and diverse clubhouse. We have space, desire and willingness because we see the changes that take place for people who are able to regain their confidence and hope. Our partnerships with other community agencies could also be great assets in education support, but a dedicated person for the work is desperately needed.
Langley Stepping Stone Society
The questions forming the basis of this interview were originally formulated through a discussion between Visions and Janet Burden of Langley Stepping Stone. The final responses were prepared by Sheila O’Hare and include contributions from Mary Cormier, Alison Cartier, Nicky Serfontein, and the following clubhouse members:
Linda Harper is currently attending Kwantlen University College and an Adult Education Centre in New Westminster.
Roxann Ganzeveld completed her grade 12. She has also completed Kwantlen University College’s Integrated Bookkeeping Systems program and is currently looking for work.
Joyce Worthington is presently doing her Grade 12 at the Langley Education Centre. She plans to complete it and then look to enter college to study political science.
Stephanie Illescas is currently doing a Basic English Academic Career Preparation (ACP) program at Kwantlen University College. Ultimately, she would like to do a diploma/degree that includes history.
Rebecca Skidmore is engaged in a full time Administrative Assistant program at Sprott Shaw College.
Langley Stepping Stone Society was established in 1984 to develop services for adults who cope with serious and persistent mental illness. The primary objective is to offer psychosocial rehabilitation, and this is provided through many programs and services including food services, the communications unit, the craft group, the education series, social and leisure activity programs, supported work and volunteer programs, and community living support and supported independent living programs. In addition, there is a regional mental health resource centre and an employment services program.
Visions: What educational supports do you offer to help people looking to make the first steps back to school?
Stepping Stone: Langley Stepping Stone clubhouse offers informal educational support by providing opportunities for our members to discuss and research information on attending or returning to school. The discussion procedure provides encouragement to those thinking about school and assists people through the decision-making process. Stepping Stone has collected numerous community educational calendars which outline courses and programs. We also have internet access which provides this information online.
Once people decide that school is an option for them, we can support them in a variety of ways. We often accompany people to educational institutions in order for them to either gain further information or to attend orientation sessions. We also support people to attend scheduled appointments with schools and provide assistance to fill out application forms.
The clubhouse is equipped with computers, internet access, fax machines, telephones and a photocopier, all of which can assist people to complete school assignments, or to make contact with instructors, admissions offices or fellow students. In addition, we have both staff and peers who can provide support and assistance with the process of essay writing or exam preparation.
Linda: Stepping Stone offers a creative writing group, provides computers and a printer which can be used throughout the day, and has places where I can sit and do my homework.
Roxann: I have found the staff to be supportive. I was introduced to the Employment Services program (described below), which assisted me in making my decisions and helped me secure funding for the Integrated Bookkeeping program. I also think that having access to computers and the internet is very helpful. The Employment Services program is available and has assisted me in my educational decision-making and my educational funding. It also helped me to secure daycare and provided me with a training and travel allowance while I was in school.
Joyce: Stepping Stone and my SIL (housing support) worker have provided me encouragement and helped me pace myself so that I don’t take on too much or overdo the number of courses that I am taking. My SIL worker has also supported me by attending school meetings. I also use Stepping Stone’s computers to do my homework and look at the course calendars online. In the future, Stepping Stone can help me plan my courses and brainstorm around career options. The clubhouse can help with my financial planning, help with my student loan application or any government subsidies that might be available. They can make suggestions for other resources that I could use to reach my educational goals. Stepping Stone can also help me to cope with my childcare issues by assisting me to research and plan daycare and after-school activities that are available in Langley.
Stephanie: Stepping Stone encourages me to stick to my goals. I use the computers to complete homework and to plan my courses. I have received help in the form of tutoring and developing a study-skills plan. I have also received essay-planning help and support.
Rebecca: I rely on the computers because I don’t have one at home. The staff members are available to bounce things off of and ask questions to. Also, staff can help find the resources that might help me or explain concepts to me that I might not know. I appreciate that they offer support but do not do the work for me — rather, they encourage me to do it on my own.
Visions: What other resources do you have available once a person has decided to go back to secondary or post-secondary education?
Stepping Stone: As mentioned, all of our computers have internet access, which can assist people to explore and research educational institutions and various programs and courses. We also assist individuals to access the Rehabilitation Enabling Fund through mental health services. This fund provides individuals with up to $200 per year for courses, home-based business start-ups, equipment, or clothing for interviews or ongoing employment.
One of Langley Stepping Stone’s numerous programs is Employment Services, which is a career exploration, employment planning, educational planning and job placement program funded by the Ministry of Human Resources, Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division (VRS). This program can assist individuals to develop employment and educational plans and, through VRS, individuals can receive funding for training and educational programs (see sidebar, this page).
Visions: What other educational supports would you like Stepping Stone to offer?
Linda: I would like to see more computer skills, typing and internet programs available for the members. I would also like to see more creative writing and math courses offered. It would also be useful to have courses on stress management. I would like to see Stepping Stone involved in advocating to make school environments more supportive and assist in dealing with diplomatic issues regarding mental health issues. Kwantlen disclosed my relationship with the mental health system, which became problematic for me. But I’m not going to let it deter me. It would be make things worse if I should allow my first attempt at a postsecondary program to be an influence on returning in the future.
Employment services program
Employment Services has assisted and supported 14 people in post-secondary education programs in both public and private institutions. These programs have ranged in length from six months to two years, and have included the following: computerized accounting, administrative assistant, integrated office systems, AutoCAD (computer-assisted drafting), resident care aide, veterinary assistant, furniture upholstery, geriatric activity coordinator and commercial floristry.
Employment Services not only assists individuals to identify and choose their educational direction, but also offers support while students are completing their programs. Employment Services works with the educational institutions’ Disability Advisor or Director, and can arrange to have numerous accommodations in place, to be implemented if necessary. These accommodations can include:
Employment Services maintains ongoing and regular contact with our students throughout their programs to ensure they are coping well, progressing successfully and, if necessary, will help negotiate through any mental health issue which could complicate the individual’s educational progress.
Supported education can also take another direction. While post-secondary education is appropriate for some, other participants may prefer (and be better suited for) short-term, vocationally-based training courses. Still others may require specific certificates which will assist them in their immediate employment search. Employment Services is able to provide internal funding and support for these shorter-term programs, which often can lead directly to employment. Some of these vocationally-related training and certificate programs include road flagger, food safety, first aid and CPR, building service worker, individual computer courses, forklift training, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), and cashier training. Employment Services has assisted and supported 25 people to obtain shorter training programs and certificate courses, which provide specialized training to assist people in their job search.
Roxann: It would be helpful to have study groups with peers. I also think that having help finding supported work experience placements would be good. Also, help practicing for interviews and telephone training would be valuable.
Joyce: They could offer help with family issues and dynamics that interfere with school, like boundary issues, etc.
Stephanie: I would like uninterrupted time on the computers to do my homework.
Stepping Stone: Langley Stepping Stone clubhouse is a 6,000-foot, four-floor facility, which is an ideal environment to provide both formal and informal programs to assist people who have returned to school or who will be returning in the future. We would like to offer organized study groups, peer tutoring programs, professional tutoring, educational support groups, and workshops on returning to school (e.g., what to expect, how to find what your looking for, how to be successful, good study habits etc.).
Visions: What does education mean to clubhouse members?
Linda: It gives me the sense that I can change my future.
Roxann: Being involved in an educational program has totally improved my confidence and self-esteem. It has enabled me to learn the skills of the job and given me the knowledge of how to explore employment.
Joyce: By furthering my education, I am more likely to have a better job one day, which will lead to a better life. I feel that school helps me grow and improve myself. I feel more in touch with worldly issues. Going to school and achieving my educational goals also improves my self-esteem and helps me to be a better parent to my son.
Stephanie: Furthering my education means that I have greater career options, which will hopefully lead to a paying job. I also think that schooling leads to self-improvement and increased skills. Achieving my educational goals has improved my self-esteem and has given me a sense of direction and purpose.
Rebecca: Education will benefit me financially. I now have a desire for a career. My self-esteem and self-respect have increased and I am proud of my good grades. I want to earn my own money and not be dependent upon my disability benefits cheque to live. My independence is important to me. There are some negative things that I experience. Occasionally my stress level increases, and the inconsistency of my student loan is problematic because I don’t get my benefits cheque at the same time every month. But, I love the routine of school, knowing I have to be somewhere five days per week. I enjoy meeting new people outside of the clubhouse and expanding my social life. School now takes priority.
Stepping Stone: Our members view education as a chance to engage in something meaningful that can give purpose and direction to their future. Some members see education as a potential step towards employment and have taken single courses or full programs in order to further themselves or to achieve their career goals. Education has provided our members with a sense of accomplishment, improved self-esteem, improved personal confidence, and provided a sense of moving forward in life. Throughout the past year, 21 Stepping Stone members have attended school or taken courses in the community.