LFI Program: Improving the Lives of MCPS Students for Over 20 Years


Ms. Vancavage, whose mother began the LFI Program in Montgomery County, is a graduate of PB as was her brother, Bryan.

Jaina Mosely-Lawson, Staff Writer

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Learning For Independence program. Let me just say, the students I met were extremely nice and compassionate and made me feel comfortable and welcome.
This experience made me wonder why more people don’t know about this program. In fact, what most people know about it is simply that they see kids they don’t have a class in the hallway, wonder who they are for a moment, and then move on.

The LFI program, officially known as Learning for Independence, is offered to students in Montgomery County who have certain disabilities. The program’s main focus, according to Ms. Vancavage, is to prepare students for the real world (as some would put it) but it does not approach the process in the same manner that traditional schooling does. The program’s teachers work to “make students as independent as possible” according to Ms. Vancavage. Additionally, the program educates students until the age of 21 years old. Students who finish the program receive a certificate and either continue their education or find employment opportunities.

Ms. Vancavage notes that the LFI program teaches students basic skills such as applying for and getting a job, obtaining an apartment, and even teaching them how to do taxes. Basically, the class works on “anything any other person would need to live a successful life,¨ says Ms. Vancavage. The students also take a variety of academic and elective classes just like other students, but the curriculum is modified to fit the needs of those in the class.

The LFI program exists in some of the high schools in Montgomery County and those schools that don’t have the program still have other programs for students with special needs. In the Paint Branch LFI program, there are about forty students currently, which makes the Paint Branch LFI program one of the largest in the county.

Ms. Vancavage is especially close to the program as a PB graduate, but her ties to it run much deeper. Her mother, Dottie, actually began the Paint Branch LFI program in 1991.According to Ms. Vancavage, the main reason her mother worked to start the program was to help her son, Ms. Vancavage’s brother Bryan, who attended Paint Branch many years ago.

Ms.Vancavage always knew she wanted to help students with special needs, specifically working with the LFI program since her brother went through it. Ms. Vancavage went to college at Mount St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she obtained her B.S. in special education. After college, she applied for a job in the Montgomery County Public School system and received an open contract which led her to opportunities to work in the area of special education.

Ms.Vancavage was thrilled to begin working in the LFI program at the beginning of last school year. Prior to working at Paint Branch, she was an elementary special education teacher at Stonegate Elementary School and Cresthaven Elementary School. She says that she always knew she wanted to return to Paint Branch and teach in the LFI program.

When she and her brother were both at PB, she would come into the LFI classroom and volunteer. Based on her experiences, she knew she wanted to help students with special needs become more independent. “The teachers who taught my brother were amazing and helped him become successful and I want to be able to do the same for our students,” said Ms. Vancavage.