Building a strong transition to work program

By Ben Robertson, Dobyns-Bennett TSW coordinator

Two Dobyns-Bennett special educators, Jimmy Burleson and Bill Darnell, had a vision in 2015 to bring a Transition School to Work (TSW) program to their school. The program provides vocational rehabilitation services to high school students with disabilities—with the goal of creating a smooth, seamless transition from high school to post-high school career development and/or employment. These educators pursued their vision by applying for a TSW grant and enlisting school and community support.

Today, the program is in its second year of implementation and serves 24 students, who are supported in acclimating to the tenets of employment through a work readiness class and work-based learning at various job sites. In my role as program coordinator, I teach a Work Readiness/Life Skills class and oversee our work-based learning program at multiple job sites. I also build relationships with various businesses in our community to provide work-based learning for our TSW students and to find employment for them upon graduation. Additionally, work readiness specialists support students one-on-one or in small group settings at job sites in the community through paid or unpaid work experiences with local businesses.

The results are encouraging. Students are learning meaningful job and independent life skills, as well as gaining employment. Businesses are also receiving notable recognition from the community, as well as gaining reliable and job-ready employees. Here are some tips if you’re interested in building a strong TSW program in your school and community:

  • Build relationships. Strong partnerships are the key to a successful program. We have worked very closely with our local and state vocational rehabilitation services to prepare our students for life after high school. We also intentionally build relationships with local businesses to encourage their participation. We started this process by reaching out to businesses that already had partnerships with the school system. Then, we’ve been able to expand our reach by getting involved with the local Business Chamber, as well as cold-calling and visiting various businesses in the community. The local businesses we partner with give our TSW students the opportunity to build their skill sets, and most businesses are offering our students jobs before they even graduate.
  • Offer a Transition Class. We start our day by having a Transition Class for our TSW students. These students are taught skills that employers are looking for, such as work ethic, reliability, customer service, professionalism, etc. These skills are taught through various curricular materials and videos that provide opportunities for student discussion, reflection, and feedback. Secondly, students learn how to apply for jobs, list references, send professional emails, practice mock interviews, and write a resume and cover letter. Lastly, students are taught important independent living skills. Some of these skills include doing laundry, folding and hanging clothes, using public transportation, self-advocacy, budgeting, leisure activities, good health habits, and career and post-secondary education exploration.
  • Evaluate Students on a Daily Basis. We provide an opportunity for students to hear feedback on how they are performing at their jobsite. One way we do this is by having a rubric that allows the students’ work readiness specialists to assess them in various areas, as well as provide strengths and improvements on a daily basis. Some of the areas that are assessed are performance of the job tasks, professionalism, customer service, communication, uniform, hygiene, etc. The Work Readiness Specialists also take the time to talk with the students on an individual basis and let them know their strengths and weaknesses at the job sites, and ways to improve their performance.
  • Provide Learning at Multiple Job Sites. We provide students the opportunity to learn critical job skills at multiple job sites. This helps students learn and become skilled in various job settings. This also helps them better decide what they would like to do as their long-term career.

Overall, our TSW program has been a wonderful success. Before the TSW program started at Dobyns-Bennett, there wasn’t a set plan in place for our students with moderate to severe disabilities for life after high school. The TSW grant has allowed us to develop a program that teaches our students the skill sets necessary to be able to contribute to society and make a positive impact in our community upon graduation.

You can learn more about TSW here.

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