MILWAUKEE — Since pivoting to an online model, a Milwaukee non-profit says they have served more people in the last 3 months than they did for from 2017-2019.
Islands of Brilliance offers tech programming for students on the autism spectrum.
There is a stark contrast between students learning in February to today.
"It felt kind of sudden for me personally," said Shayne Mack, one of the non-profit's Digital Academy students.
The usual workspace is empty since everything moved to distance learning.
"It got easier as time went on," said Shayne.
The programs combine Shayne's love of art and computers, preparing him for the workforce.
Despite moving to virtual learning, Shayne says the support from mentors and peers has helped him push through the change.
"It means to me more than anything else is that you're not alone and there's always someone else around," said Shayne.
Shayne's father, Kersten, admitted they were nervous about having adequate technology at home. So when the organization brought them all the equipment Shayne would need it helped the transition move much more smoothly.
"That support has never left. I think it got even better because of how we had to learn," said Kersten.
"It was different but actually in many ways better. Our students were more engaged in the online environment," said Amy Mason, the Director of Integrated Learning.
Mason says getting computers to students seemed to be the hardest part, and learning from home proved to be an advantage.
"Students with autism often have issues with noisy environments or environments that are too stimulating and being at home just takes that all away," said Mason.
"I feel like it’s not only helping me grow as an artist but also grow as a person as well," said Shayne.
Islands of Brilliance recently got national funding from Autism Speaks and Adobe to support their distance learning model, a model that drew interest from people in other states.
"We see it as a very viable opportunity for students who have autism in their pursuits of post-secondary or employment opportunities and that kind of funding will really get us on the track to keep growing our program," said Mason.
Leaning on their experience, Mason sees the non-profit helping schools with distance learning opportunities in the future.