CIP Adapting Specialized Education to Online Learning


By Dan McManmon, President, CIP


The name CIP is synonymous with “transition." For the last 35 years, we have exclusively provided one of the world’s most comprehensive educational programs specifically for young adults with various complex learning differences in full-year residential settings. We’ve helped our students and families manage through most everything you’d expect would come with the territory when considering the transition from adolescence to adulthood.


As the COVID-19 virus emerged and became a more serious threat to the US, we - along with every educational institution - were left to make difficult decisions on a daily and even hourly basis as to how to safely manage this new threat while doing our best to deliver on our CIP programming. Our organization had been preparing for various contingencies but none that rivaled that of a global pandemic. 


A principle we hold close at CIP is to “reframe obstacles into opportunities for positive pathways for change”. We are firm believers that every success or failure - large or small - has important learning elements and to never overlook even the smallest of accomplishments. Adaptation is proving to be a critical 21st-century skill for all people, businesses, and even nations, and what better opportunity than now to reinforce these skills. 


Our primary goal from the moment we determined to send our students home for a prolonged stay was to provide the highest level of service continuity possible during this time. In this spirit, we moved ahead with an ambitious plan for a one-week all-hands-on-deck “sprint” to convert the CIP program into an online remote learning program.


By online learning, we do not mean on-demand videos, links to curriculum, or online Learning Management coursework, but rather as close of an adaptation to CIP’s comprehensive in-person services as possible - all services being live, one-to-one, or in small groups with the same staff of whom our students had already been connected to. The nature of the way CIP services are typically delivered is very different from the traditional academic classroom-based instruction and has proven to adapt well to a distance-learning service delivery.


CIP’s educational approach is based on these core tenets:

  • Active Learning & Community Integration
  • Person-Centered Approach
  • Team-Based Approach
  • Comprehensive Transition Services

One advantage to CIP’s program design and structure is the close, personal relationships that exist between staff, students, and families. Our staff has in-depth experience working with students with learning differences on a 1:1 basis. Our centers are small compared to a college campus, and the bonds between students, staff, and the community are strong.


CIP’s Interdisciplinary Staffing Model brings many perspectives and practices from various teams of expertise together into one unified program experience. Both the student and the family are core members of the team. This foundational element within CIP serves as a strong foundation. 


In preparation for CIP’s transition to remote services, and along with various scheduling, technology, training, and communication issues to work out, we quickly identified that continuity challenges would exist especially in the areas of socialization and life skills.


In addition to our remote programming covering core curriculum offerings including independent living skills, college support, and career readiness skills, social skills, and wellness, we’ve also helped create opportunities for students to participate in online social events with their peers and with other students from all five CIP centers.

Opportunities such as virtual museum tours, scavenger hunts, pet shows with their family pets, movie nights and other activities are being offered while students are residing at home and without access to traditional social opportunities they may have due to COVID-19. 


Our students learn with us that to truly master independent living skills, they must practice and generalize certain skills in real-life settings and build the social constructs necessary to foster future interdependence. Now in their home environment, we coach our students to maintain and transfer their learned skills during this new transition while they continue to receive support with executive functioning, budgeting and money management, cooking and cleaning instruction as well as support with managing their personal space.


We are continually facilitating transition skills each time a student returns home during a break period, or returns the following year and moves into a new apartment. CIP students continue to have access to life skills appointments and 24/7 on-call supports. 


Despite everyone being uprooted from their day-to-day lives, the majority of students are continuing to maintain their independent living routines and have adapted to technology use, which is sure to become an even more critical skill in the workplace and beyond. Staff is also witnessing some students who are typically more reserved now speaking up and engaging more socially through their virtual sessions, where they have a different comfort level and can contribute more equally to group modules.


And finally, many of our families are reporting that they are finding value in their newfound time as a family. We are continually looking for the positives and leveraging those opportunities in whatever setting our students may reside in.

With all of our CIP team members employed and working remotely, we remain 100% “open” virtually in this new and different landscape. Our teams easily connect and hold collaboration meetings over video conference. Our admissions staff has conducted virtual visits and shadow days and continues to help interested families and professionals learn more about our programs. 


While we certainly can and will leverage this unique opportunity for students to grow and adapt to a different learning environment during this unprecedented time, we really look forward to the next opportunity to transition our students back to our centers as soon as safely possible. Until then, we will be continuing to evolve and help our CIP students challenge the norms of what they can achieve.

About the Author: Dan McManmon, President

As President of the College Internship Program (CIP), Dan strives to achieve long-term vision and alignment with CIP’s core values and founding principles by ensuring operations, marketing, strategy, and programming are effectively implemented across the organization.