Special education students guided to job shadowing

Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 14, 2017

LAPLACE — Within the next year, special education students in the River Parishes with moderate to significant disabilities will have access to vocational training to ease the transition from high school to post-secondary employment.

Students will partake in real world work experiences, learning work readiness and self-advocacy skills to reach their full potential.

The program, called the River Parishes Opportunity to Reality Initiative, also seeks to break down barriers and stereotypes hindering special education students from networking and becoming self-sufficient, productive adults.

The initiative was developed from a partnership between St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parish school systems, South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve and Opportunity Now, a Louisiana rehabilitative service provider.

The program is geared toward high school juniors and seniors nearing graduation so students can transition from job shadowing to a vocational college course, according to Dr. Stacey Spies, special education director for St. John Public Schools.

Spies said she is excited to implement the initiative into the special education curricula, noting career related field experiences have been absent from local schools for at least 10 years.

“It allows students with disabilities to go out into the community to form skill sets and experience a vocational college campus,” Spies said.

Job sampling and job shadowing officially begin in January, Spies said. Before then, she plans to reach out to businesses such as fast food restaurants, grocery stores and pizza chains and develop a checklist of criteria students must meet to participate.

Special education students are taking career readiness courses in preparation, she said, and career inventories will help them determine what kind of job they would like to pursue.

Following a semester of job sampling, students will be transported by bus to take a course at South Central Louisiana Technical College, where they will form connections with other special education students from around the River Parishes and continue work readiness training.

“Our goal is for our kids to have positive experiences in the community that they would not have otherwise,” Spies said. “They get to go out and have that networking experience. We hope to develop relationships with the businesses long term.”

She said the self-advocacy lessons are also of value because students with disabilities are sometimes afraid to speak up and no one can advocate for himself or herself without practice.

“I’m excited for the kids to feel a sense of belonging and break down those barriers and stereotypes,” Spies said.

Stereotyping and categorizing others is dangerous and runs a risk of limiting an individual’s potential, according to St. John School Board Member Russ Wise.

“Having a disability is like in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” when she had to wear the “A” for everyone to see,” Wise said. “When you confine people to categories, you run the risk of putting them into intellectual ghettos.”

He said the state has fallen terribly behind in learning how to help people with disabilities and hopes the River Parishes Opportunity to Reality Initiative helps students have the opportunity to find their niche in life.

“I’ve been involved with the St. John ARC for years, and I know folks can operate as independent adults if given a chance to do so,” Wise said.

“The first step is getting businesses to open their doors. We need to educate potential employers, as well as students.”

According to Spies, the initiative was made possible through a grant, and an additional $10,000 was also awarded to St. John Special Education Department staff through a second grant aiming to enhance community recreation, leisure and physical fitness activities for students with disabilities.

For more information, call 985-652-9250.

— By Brooke Robichaux