July 2, 2019
Chris Woodley • firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven million students ages 3 to 21 in 2017-2018 received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This accounted for 14 percent of all public school students. To help students with disabilities, the College of Social Work’s Center for Child and Family Studies partnered with several University of South Carolina units for a pilot program to help develop employment skills.
In conjunction with the university, the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation is hosting 50 students for the Career Academy for Students with Disabilities. The four-day workshop provides students with the opportunity to focus on skill building and the transition to further education or work. The workshop curriculum was designed by the Center for Child and Family Studies to empower students and focus on leadership, workplace readiness, job shadowing, financial literacy and business skill building. Students throughout South Carolina who are currently receiving services from Vocational Rehabilitation were chosen through an application. The first workshop was held from June 22-25. Upcoming workshops will be from July 6-9 and July 27-30. The theme of the workshops is “Power Up 2019.”
“For some students with disabilities in South Carolina, they end up in a group home or an institution,” Academy co-director Cynthia Steele said. “This was an opportunity to start training these students to be independent and to teach them what jobs are available, how to apply, and help them realize that they can be a functional part of society. Our goal is to help the students see that their disability does not define them; it refines them.”
According to Cynthia Flynn, director of the Center for Child and Family Studies and Academy co-director, she received a phone call in February that Vocational Rehabilitation wanted to hold a summer workshop for students with disabilities.
“I told them that I didn't think we could hold the conference, but another unit of the university could host the event, and we could help with some of the trainings,” Flynn said. “I was particularly interested because I have a Ph.D. in special education, previously worked at Vocational Rehabilitation and was a transition consultant while working at the (South Carolina) Department of Education. We created 26 different modules for the workshops and wrote the curriculum for rehab counselors to follow up with the students as they work with them during the upcoming school year.”
According to Beck Sullivan, senior program manager, curriculum and information design at the Center for Child and Family Studies, Vocational Rehabilitation is required by the federal government to meet certain outcomes in five broad areas, including job exploration and counseling, instruction in self-advocacy, and workplace readiness training. The workshop curriculum was built around meeting the targeted outcomes.
“For example, one of the workshop events is a luncheon, where local business leaders from the Midlands are invited,” Sullivan said. “Some of the people are coming from places where the students did job shadowing. Leading up to both events, we built several aspects into the curriculum such as dressing for success, professionalism at work, asking a potential employer questions while on the job shadowing tour, and practicing an introduction.”
While Flynn said writing curriculum around disabilities is not completely new for her team, working on a summer workshop focusing around careers is a new experience.
“There are several people on our staff who know someone with a disability or have expertise in this area and were excited to use their skills,” Flynn said. “Our staff knows that this is an opportunity to make an impact and difference in the lives of youths.”
Flynn has also enjoyed working with Steele and collaborating with other university units.
“It's a great collaboration with Cynthia Steele and her team because they are great with all the details and putting summer camps together,” Flynn said. “We wanted to make sure it was a good collaboration, and it’s also part of our strategic plan to work more with other university units.”
Not only is this the first year the university is hosting the Career Academy for Students with Disabilities, it is also the first workshop of its kind. Steele hopes it will become a norm and not an exception for organizations to use the structure of the Academy to create workshops for disabled students.
“I hope that students not only learn about transitioning to a job but also independent life skills,” Steele said. “They will mingle with other students in a safe environment and be in situations where they don't have to shy away from being part of a social or network setting. With just a few adjustments, they can be a part of anything.”