Job training gives hope to students with disabilities

March 05, 1995|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Contributing Writer

Donald Ash, 20, won't graduate with a high school diploma and he only reads at a sixth-grade level. But by next year, his parents and teachers hope he will have the skills to compete in the job market.

Mr. Ash, who is attending Northeast High School, is in the final phase of the county's Supported Employment Program, a partnership between Anne Arundel County schools and

businesses. The program provides work training and experience for developmentally disabled students from 16 county schools.

Alberta Ash, Donald's stepmother, said the program has given him "a bit more responsibility."

"He enjoys working and having money to spend," she said.

Supported Employment is part of the county's special education curriculum. About $250,000 is spent to staff it each year. Its goal is to find students minimum-wage jobs at which they can work at least 20 hours a week.

About 50 county businesses participate in the program each year. Job duties for the students include clerical work, housekeeping, dish washing, food service and sales work. Morrison's Cafeteria has provided jobs for the students since the program started six years ago.

"It gets kids out in the workplace so we can see which ones are capable of holding jobs," said Morrison's manager, Jim Sturman.

Mr. Ash works three days a week at Chesapeake Printing and Design, a family-owned company in Glen Burnie. He sweeps floors, bags and sorts mail. His six co-workers have become his extended family. Mr. Ash said he "loves" working. His co-workers even know his favorite candy bar, Nestle's Crunch.

About 200 students like Mr. Ash are in the three-stage Supported Employment Program. Most are mentally retarded and will get certificates when they turn 21, instead of high school degrees.

Schoolchildren in the program are given small jobs around the classroom, such as watering plants. At age 14, they get their first job outside the school.

They work at job sites in groups of four until they are 19. They work two or three days a week for two hours, changing sites every 18 weeks. During this phase, the students are not paid. They are monitored by job coaches, special education teachers from the schools.

fTC "We want to have them out in the open where regular employees can interact with them," said Yvonne Craska, a job coach from Central Special Education School.

The coaches stay with the students throughout the workday and show them how to perform their duties. By the final stage of the program, students are taught to work on their own, and they are paid.

Job coaches provide intensive training at first and phase out the training as skills are mastered. Though the program's coordinators hope all the students keep their jobs, sometimes that does not happen.

School buses transport the students to and from work. After the students receive their certificates, an adult service provider chosen by the student continues job coaching services. The providers come from agencies such as United Cerebral Palsy, Opportunity Builder's Association and Providence Center.

Ken Musgrove, 20, of Edgewater, who is also in the program, works three days a week in the stockroom at Roy Rogers in Annapolis Mall.

"He's a good worker," said manager Traci Gray. "You tell him what to do and he takes care of it right away."

Like most developmentally disabled students, Mr. Musgrove, who attends South River High School, made his share of mistakes. Sometimes his manager had to remind him to do things.

At first many students have trouble remembering their duties and have to be taught social skills, said job trainers, teachers and employers.

But, employers said the students are reliable. They arrive on time and seldom complain. When there is a problem, job coaches respond immediately.

Ms. Craska said the students see their jobs as their life.

"They're not involved in different lessons, like dance and basketball, and they don't have a driver's license," she said. " The job is not only their livelihood, but their social life too."

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