DCPS Partners with Local Nonprofit to Prepare Students for College and Career 

May 31, 2011

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At any age, finding employment can be a nerve-wracking experience. From writing a resume to interviewing – it takes preparation and dedication.

And while graduation and finding employment can seem far away to high school students, it’s important that they start preparing for life after DCPS. That’s why the transition team at DCPS is focused on providing students with disabilities with an individualized transition process.

By educating students about their post-secondary education, employment and independent living options, they can better choose a career path that will provide them with a competitive wage.

At the school level, special education coordinators, IEP case managers and teachers help special education students acquire real-world experience, such as finding an internship or part-time job, writing resumes and practicing interview skills.

Often times, schools partner with outside agencies and non-profits to help facilitate transition activities and provide students with additional resources.

One such organization is The Arc of DC, which works to improve the quality of life of all persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families through supports and advocacy. The Arc of DC received a grant from Walmart to partner with DCPS schools to create a comprehensive tool to assist families as their children transition out of high school.

“We are beyond the days of people just getting jobs in the service industry and not going to college,” said Mary Lou Meccariello, executive director of The Arc of DC. “The move across the country is that people with intellectual disabilities and autism are going to college; they are starting up new businesses.”

The Arc of DC created a curriculum on transition and used it when working with more than 30 students at three different schools and programs: Mamie D. Lee School, Cardozo High School and Project SEARCH. Two Arc of DC staff members with backgrounds in special education provided training, advocacy and support to a group of students and their families.

Mamie D. Lee is a school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Cardozo is a high school in Ward 1, and Project SEARCH is a one-year high school transition program that provides skills training and work experience for students at the U.S. departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

Twice a week, the Arc of DC worked with the sites to help students write resumes, interview each other and explore potential career and college interests.

“One thing the students walked away with is a completed resume, and for them that was like, ‘Wow, I can actually apply for a job.’ That gave them encouragement and ambition,” said Dr. Belton. “So they walked away with confidence and skills, and our teachers and job coaches are teaching the same thing, so it was great to have reinforcement.”

“The kids learned the word accountable – you are accountable for all the things that you do,” said Cheryl Gillette, a teacher at Mamie D. Lee.

The Arc of DC also led family trainings to share in-depth information about transition and post-secondary resources for students and families so that family members could help guide their children through the transition process once they leave DCPS.

Most importantly, the students who participate in the program are equipped with the interview, resume and career skills they need to apply for and hold a job.

“It’s truly an advocacy and empowerment model, and that was our approach when we applied for this grant,” said Ms. Meccariello. “We wanted to talk about the future and how to navigate it.”

The Arc of DC will continue its work with DCPS next school year.

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