Webster University Partners With Lafayette Industries To Provide Training For Those With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities

Lafayette Industries and the Webster University School of Education are incorporating cutting-edge Mursion technology into Lafayette Industries’ STEPUP program in Jefferson County. This groundbreaking collaboration is geared towards improving employment opportunities for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

Mursion is a software platform that allows teachers to hone their classroom skills in a virtual environment. The STEPUP Program is a training program for individuals with IDD to gain or maintain competitive employment.

“The addition of these technologies within STEPUP’s program is truly exciting.  It allows for repeated practice in a safe space that is highly realistic,” said Webster University School of Education Interim Dean Stephanie Mahfood. “Users can pause the simulation to debrief, problem solve, and try again. Simulations can be customized to the individual needs of the participant. All these features align strongly with what we know about best practice teaching complex skills to learners with IDD. I am looking forward to seeing how this partnership expands the employment and life opportunities for STEPUP participants.”

The integration of Mursion technology into the STEPUP program signifies the commitment of both institutions to leverage emerging technologies for the community’s benefit. By seamlessly blending virtual teaching simulations into an employment-focused curriculum, Webster University and Lafayette Industries aim not only to transform the lives of individuals with IDD but also to empower educators with skills crucial for the evolving education landscape.

Webster University’s School of Education introduced the Mursion technology in 2020 to provide students with additional teaching practice in the pandemic. Operating on the Zoom platform, Mursion offers a realistic virtual classroom experience where teachers interact with animated student avatars controlled by trained simulation specialists.

Webster University received a state grant in 2022 to expand the use of Mursion and act as a hub for local school districts for training teachers in different environments. Since then, the School of Education has expanded the use of this software into Webster’s teacher preparation programs. This expansion offers realistic opportunities to practice complex teaching skills and gives students and instructors the ability to rewatch and analyze the recorded simulation footage for further analysis.

The expansion of the program into Jefferson County was made possible through a grant from The Jefferson Foundation. Founded in 2013, the mission of the Jefferson Foundation is to provide support for charitable and educational activities that promote individual and community health and well-being in Jefferson County. Since its formation, the Foundation has distributed more than $7 million in grants annually to qualified public charities and government units.

Other crucial partners in this project include local Jefferson County businesses Wicked Chicken and Cool Beans. Both businesses will provide real-world internship opportunities. The Northwest School District has played a pivotal role in marketing the program to eligible graduates and their families.

Stacey Elster, chief program officer at Lafayette Industries, highlighted the transformative impact of STEPUP, stating that since its launch three years ago, 74% of program participants have secured employment. Elster emphasized the program’s commitment to tangible outcomes, providing individuals with IDD a direct pathway to employment. Lafayette receives funding from The Productive Living Board to operate STEPUP in St. Louis County.

Elster noted that it provides a unique academic evidence-based approach addressing the specific needs of individuals with IDD who might otherwise be ineligible for employment programming. This academic rigor sets STEPUP apart, offering a tailored curriculum that addresses the nuanced challenges faced by individuals excluded from conventional employment initiatives.

Rob Libera, CEO and executive director at Lafayette Industries, emphasized the broader impact of the program, stating that STEPUP dramatically expands the spectrum of employment choices and opportunities for a significant population of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, with its holistic approach, goes beyond traditional employment training, opening doors to various opportunities for a population often overlooked in the workforce.

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