By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Fredonia Central Schools special education teachers have been pounding the pavement seeking support for a work-based learning pilot program to begin in the high school this school year.
Teacher Kristin Tomaszewski says the goal of work-based learning is to prepare students to successfully enter the world of work and preparing them with skills required in the 21st century upon graduation. In addition to the board of education at the school, Tomaszewski and Transition Coordinator Geri Workoff have been meeting with area business leaders, the Fredonia Village Board of Trustees and others.
The program is beginning in Tomaszewski's Functional Life Skills Classroom with students who have a range of abilities, but ultimately, the program is being designed to benefit all students. "Yes, there will be a strong focus on connecting students with disabilities with local businesses and establishing relationships, but I think with time, patience, and persistence we will be able to make this a reality for many of our students," she said.
The pilot in the 2012-13 school year will pair one student who teachers feel is a good candidate for the program with a job coach and a local place of employment. Keeping the student to one will allow time for working out details and preparing learning materials for the student and others.
Over the summer, Workoff and Tomaszewski attended a conference in Rochester titled "Engaging Youth for the 21st Century," which was hosted by the Council for Exceptional Children.
"It was a program at this conference that sparked our interest," Tomaszewski said, and explained the Northern Adirondack Central School District in Ellenburg Depot, New York presented their "Career and Life Links" program. She quoted from the PowerPoint presentation shown at the conference: "A unique learning experience which focuses on preparing each student for the real world, where knowledge of community resources, employment opportunities and living independently become 'links' to a productive life."
Tomaszewski said she's beginning with a particularly well-suited special education student, in part, because the credentials with which special education students will graduate is going to change in the following school year. "As far as the special education population that we will be working with to start, these students are alternately assessed and will be getting an IEP (Individualized Education Program) diploma. This year will be the last year for the IEP diploma and starting with the 2013-2014 school year students and teachers will work together to complete an exit credential, which is largely focused on work based and independent living skills," she explained.
Those involved with the program along with Tomaszewski have a time line under development. "We will be piloting this program this year with one student. We are planning to consider the idea of adding a second student this year depending on the time we have available and the success of the program. Personally, I would like to have at least 20 business on board by the end of our second year with at least eight to 10 students involved. If we could continue to grow at this rate, I think we would have a highly successful program at the end of about 5 years," Tomaszewski said, but noted at the moment, all involved in the program also teach at the school, so are unable to dedicate to the program full time. However, approval to hire a dedicated job coach was given by the board of education at the last meeting. The funds will come from the special education budget.
Tomaszewski asks that any are business leaders interested in becoming involved with the program contact her directly at 679-1581 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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