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Passport To Independence Adapts Program to Fill In Gaps

Ace Connect adapts its program to support students learn and

connect virtually. 

DPS AceConnect logo

The remote learning environment has undoubtedly been difficult for many Denver Public Schools (DPS) students this fall, and that’s especially true for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD). DPS ACE Connect Passport to Independence, an effort supported by RMHS’ Mill Levy program, has been there to help.

DPS began its 2020 school year teaching students through a computer screen and adapting lessons to fit remote learning. As DPS continued to develop its remote learning model, students with I/DD were offered additional support from the DPS ACE Connect Passport to Independence program.

The Passport to Independence project is a Denver Mill Levy funded program of DPS ACE Connect that teaches students with I/DD independent living skills during school and after graduation. The program uses community-based instruction to support students with self-advocacy and independent living skills.

Beginning Oct. 6, Ace Connect will offer students a weekly online course that safely connects students to organizations in their community. Students will have the opportunity to take a yoga & mindful movement, fresh food cooking, music making & creative expression class from a community organization. Youth on Record, Art from Ashes, Yogamunity and The GrowHaus are the four community organizations partnering with DPS Ace Connect for the program.

“The relationships established while in high schools help students communicate their needs to people outside of schools,” said Courtney Kallas, Transition Specialist Itinerant Teacher at Ace Connect. 

The program helps build communication and self-advocacy skills with the hope that such skills will empower students to reduce isolation after graduating high school. Post-graduation isolation can lead to a variety of problems, including a strain on mental health and physical health. The program works to help students build skills and resiliency. 

“Students in the program build self-advocacy by venturing outside of their comfort zone,” Courtney said.

ACEConnect follows a formula that encourages students to push their comfort zones and join in activities that they otherwise might not participate in.

The at-home learning and other restrictions posed by COVID-19 public health concerns have posed unique challenges.

Remote learning has been a barrier for some students as they adapt to learning virtually. For some students with I/DD, the struggle to adapt has been difficult. For those students, ACE Connect created preparation workshops to support their goals and provide additional tech support.

ACE Connect partnered with two 9th – 12th grade classrooms in Manual High school and Strive RISE High School to deliver goal setting & tech supports in an online format using Google Meets. 

Students are enrolled in DPS multi intensive center based programs that give them the opportunity to take general high school academic courses, modified courses and also get individualized supports and services specific to their needs and goals. Ace Connect was able to offer students in these two multi intensive center based classroom a goal-setting and technical support class to help students set goals and adapt to remote learning before they begin their workshops.

The class is based on an abbreviated version of a research-based goal setting “Take Action” curriculum designed for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) from the University of Oklahoma. Each day before the weekly class with a community partner that they choose, students look at their goals, reset and recommit to the goals, and reflect on their progress.

The facilitators of the Passport to Independence Program, Courtney Kallas and Nicole Franchino, provide students additional technical support in their weekly classes with community partners to help them adapt to remote learning.

“The tech learning curve is steep and there is a little bit more of a barrier for them,“ said Courtney Kallas. 

ACE Connect restarted the program since it was postponed in spring due to the changes that occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown. Staff worked with prior students and new students to get them back on track with their goals even as they adapted to new tech requirements.

Families have seen the progress, and students with I/DD can find comfort in knowing they have additional time in their school day to get support and connect with their community. 

To learn more about Denver Mill Levy program at RMHS visit

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