Thanks to a pilot program for learning disabled teens, four North County High School juniors are working for the city of Desloge this summer and having a great time doing it.
The students have been spending much of their time on the job mowing and weeding, while also learning what it’s like to hold down a real job.
“This is an employment transition program for students that are incoming seniors,” said Frank Crow, regional director for Preferred Employment Services in Desloge. “They had to qualify for vocational rehabilitation services through VR.”
Those who may be eligible for VR assistance include people with a physical or mental impairment for whom finding employment is difficult, but could possibly secure a job through the program.
Crow said the program, which is being held in the state for the first time, stipulates that the students who are hired are to work at a set location for a six-week period during the summer.
“We chose the city of Desloge,” he said. “So, they do tasks four hours a day for four days a week and then for one day of the week they learn employment skills in a classroom setting — as far as working with co-workers, being prepared and confident, interaction in a work setting. They also learn some of those soft skills required to obtain and maintain employment.”
According to Crow, this summer program is giving the teens some much needed experience.
“These kids haven’t worked,” he said. “Some of them may go to technical school but they’re probably not going to go straight off to college. This program gives them some work experience and to see what a real work environment is like.
“Next year as seniors, they’re going to be more prepared and we will probably work with them again if they choose. Then when they graduate, they’ll probably come into our regular employment services and we’ll find them a job out in the community where they can make a competitive living wage.”
Angie Inman, Vocational Rehabilitation senior counselor, has worked with the students from the very start of the program, helping them to make appropriate goals for the summer.
“We have found that a lot of our students that we worked with when they were seniors didn’t have any work experience,” she said. “Maybe they’d never worked before — whether it was volunteering or a paid position — so this just offers them some first-time work skills.
“Aside from getting them eligible for the program, we make sure that the type of work we’re looking for coincides with what’s on their IEP (Individualized Education Program) or different things like that. Then we link them to Preferred Employment Services and they take over the actual work program for us.
“The students continue to be a Vocational Rehabilitation client where we want to bridge that gap. This is the first time, so we have picked them up as juniors in high school and we’re working on this together and giving them a first-time work experience. The hope is to continue their senior year and then work on employment post-graduation.”
Inman said the students have enjoyed the experience and that it has improved their work and communication skills, along with their self-esteem.
“When I’ve talked to the parents, they are thrilled with the results because they see these things in their kiddos,” she said. “In fact, when I spoke with a student’s mom the other day, she was super excited because her son had been offered an odd job to do through people at church — probably because he was talking about what he can do now — and she didn’t even know about it. She hadn’t arranged it. He had completely done it on his own and she was really thrilled.”
Crow agreed that the program assists participating students in a number of ways.
“The kids are happy to be there,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the kids and gives them a chance to earn some money. But they’re also gaining vital skills they don’t even realize through the classroom settings and they’re a lot more prepared to go out and interview for a job and even get a job on their own. They are individuals that we’ll continue working with.
“Basically this was a partnership through Vocational Rehabilitation that went to the school and worked with them to rehabilitate these kids and then through my relationship with the school working with them and then contacting the city of Desloge to work with City Administrator Greg Camp to find a worksite. A lot of entities in the community came together to make this possible.”
Camp said the program has been a plus for everyone involved and one he hopes the city will continue to be a part of in the future.
“It’s a great program and we’re pleased that we’re able to participate,” he said. “The students have been very helpful and we hope to be able to do it again next year.”
Inman emphasizes that the program has depended on a number of people and agencies working together with the community to make it happen.
“Not one of us can take credit for this because there are so many agencies that have come together to make this happen for the kids,” she said. “The word is spreading because this program has been so successful. MERS Goodwill is helping Farmington and Fredericktown High School with their programs this summer and I believe some of the other schools are going to be really excited about trying this out with their students next summer. We’re hoping we’re going to keep building and building.”
Dana Stephens serves as an onsite job coach supervising all of the students’ hours and works in collaboration with supervisors with the city of Desloge.
“I make sure they’re doing their jobs right,” she said. “If not, then I show them how. They’re definitely learning. The first week was really hard but after that they seemed to get the hang of it. The more they did it the better they got.
“It’s really been a good learning experience. This is a great program because these kids come in not knowing how to do anything — none of the work that they’ve been doing. They’ve had new experiences and learned new things. They’ll leave here knowing a lot more than they did when they came.”
Seventeen-year-old Ian Reid, one of the program participants, said he’s already learned some important things while on the job.
“I’ve liked getting to work with everybody and just encouraging them,” he said. “The best thing I’ve learned from being here is to be positive, be independent, be on time and show others the right thing to do.”
“The students have been very helpful and we hope to be able to do it again next year.” — Greg Camp, Desloge city administrator
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or email@example.com