Last week I attended a career assessment meeting with a client at the Cuyahoga East Vocational Education Consortium.(CEVEC). This center is designed to provide “vocational and work training to high school aged students with disabilities.” CEVEC is now housed in a recently renovated building, and it positively buzzes with productivity.
The team assembled in a quiet, comfortable conference room near the main office. Tim Velotta, Career Assessment Specialist, reviewed the results of the testing and educated the group about the next steps in the process. He also explained some of the differences between services and supports at high school and the workplace. Students who are identified with a disability that affects education have Individualized Education Plans, which, as TIm described are “designed to help students succeed.” However, when students transition from public school services to the “real world,” they will receive accommodations–not services– under the Americans with Disabilities Act. At this point, Tim said, “Success is no longer guaranteed.”
This is a scary, and sometimes difficult transition for parents (and for students, too!). For many parents, this presents a touch point of grief; the realization that the child is not following the same college and career path as his/her peers hurts. Even if the parents feel that they have accepted their child’s disability, these kinds of transitions often involve “re-grieving.”
In addition, there are questions! Parents and students want to know what the day will be like, how goals will be accomplished and what the expected outcomes might be. Finally, students and parents might also be excited about the possibilities and experiences ahead, as well as the new levels of independence and fresh experiences in the offing.
In reviewing the variety of job opportunities, Tim described how he and his team evaluate students for job training. The three main criteria assessed are work speed, work accuracy, and level of independence. In addition, the team assesses students’ employability skills…the “soft skills” that are necessary for successful employment. These include seeking help when needed, ability to recognize and correct mistakes, flexibility and respect for self and others. Once the assessment is complete, students are placed into a job training program that meets their individual needs. The exciting part? The training they receive involves tasks that directly benefit the community!
What lessons can the Church learn from this process? How can we support families in this unique transition to adulthood?
- Recognize that this transition might evoke sadness or loss in parents and students. Be willing to affirm those feelings and listen without judgment.
- Celebrate the transition with the family. If the parents and student are excited about the possibilities, by all means, send a card or make a phone call to give your best wishes. Taking a step toward adulthood is a big deal! Follow the family’s lead and rejoice with them in this new opportunity.
- Offer opportunities for service at church. It’s important to think beyond the service opportunities we usually assign to teens. Not every student will be able to play the guitar, volunteer in the nursery, or go on a mission trip…and that’s okay. It’s important for us to consider the gifts of the students in our churches and provide opportunities for them to make a contribution to the Body using those gifts. (this is true for both typically developing students as well as students affected by disabilities!)
- Emphasize the “soft skills.” Reinforcing students’ ability to respect authority, follow directions and make good choices not only builds their employability…it builds the Church. When we teach these qualities at church, we can emphasize the greater purpose in demonstrating these qualities, and give our students the knowledge that they can glorify God in the workplace through their attitudes and behavior.
- Consider collaborating with a center like CEVEC. During my visit at the center, I asked Tim Velotta if students can be placed in jobs at churches. “Absolutely!” he enthused. He listed several “go-to” community organizations that have provided support and training to CEVEC students. If your church feels led, explore this opportunity to reach out to the community.
- Be a safe haven. Transitioning to the work world can be scary. Students need to know that their church stands with them, ready to commisserate about the rough days and celebrate the successful ones…because that’s what families do.