BLaST IU 17: Ready to work in the community, through EXPLORE Program

Students with diverse abilities find themselves facing numerous challenges as high school graduation approaches. One of those no longer has to be the opportunity to experience work-based learning in a community setting, thanks to the EXPLORE Program offered by BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 in central Pennsylvania.

As students, teachers, families, and other support staff try to negotiate the maze of transition services needed to meet the needs of each individual, the EXPLORE Program steps in to offer work-based learning in a variety of settings. Job coaches help each student develop basic soft and transitional skills that will enhance their employability when they are ready to enter the workforce. Classroom lessons become real as students travel with their job coaches to department stores, deer farms, restaurants, bicycle shops, senior centers, libraries, grocery stores, hospitals, and so many other locations that represent employment opportunities in the future. 

Each student is assigned tasks that meet the business’ need, but also offer skills that will support them after high school graduation. Coaches provide initial instruction, supervision, feedback and eventually some space for each student to independently demonstrate newly learned skills.

The response to the EXPLORE Program has been positive from a variety of sources. Businesses enjoy the extra help, and also appreciate the diversity that the program brings each and every day. They also see future employees, as skills are refined and demonstrated during each work-based learning session. Families, teachers, and other support staff see what real experiences can offer as a lesson in self-sufficiency and as a way to pursue the possibility of competitive employment after high school graduation. And students get the opportunity to practice those all-important skills that will give them a head start on job seeking when the real world is at their door.

The program has grown over the years. BLaST IU 17 now serves 70 students on its roster, and uses the services of 17 job coaches to support this valuable training program. The program is a win-win all the way around – educational goals are met, students are learning valuable skills, and the value of diverse-ability employees is brought home to the community every day. For more information, contact Robin Holmes, EXPLORE Program Supervisor at (570) 323-8561; (570) 673-6001; or rholmes@iu17.org.
 

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