BLaST IU 17: Saving Money on Work-based Learning for Special-needs Students

For teen students with special needs, workplace-based learning builds confidence and teaches the responsibilities that come with employment. Schools benefit by offering students meaningful learning experiences, while businesses benefit by gaining access to conscientious workers.

Now, BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 is enhancing those workplace learning opportunities while also saving school districts money. A new partnership being tested with the area Office of Vocational Rehabilitation leverages federal OVR resources and allows the IU to offer services to schools at little or no cost.

IU 17’s existing workplace learning program, EXPLORE, places students in volunteer posts in settings where they can test their interests, such as stores, offices, and retirement communities. A job coach helps each student comply with such workplace expectations as arriving on time and dressing appropriately, preparing them to “enter the workforce in a competitive way,” says EXPLORE Supervisor Tim Hanner.

One IU 17 student worked in a bookstore while also pursuing his interest in animals by working at a local pet shelter and a pet-supply store. At the pet store, he impressed the manager by discovering errors in stocking that everyone else missed.

“He fits in all three places,” says EXPLORE Coordinator Robin Holmes. “He’s well liked. He’s very social. People recognize him and speak to him.”

OVR has partnered with IU 17 to serve as a service provider because EXPLORE programs already dovetailed with OVR’s vocational training for school-age students. The partnership will allow more schools to participate by shifting costs to the OVR. Plus, new offerings being tested include self-advocacy training, classroom workplace readiness for younger students, and OVR-paid stipends that give students the satisfaction of taking home a paycheck.

“OVR is helping us take this program to the next level by opening this up to so many more kids,” he says. “We’re hoping this partnership will last for many, many years.”

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