TUPELO – Lee County School District special education students now have access to an intensive program that prepares them for jobs after graduation.
The school district recently entered into a partnership with Tupelo’s Ability Works Inc., a division of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. The state’s 17 Ability Works facilities specialize in helping Mississippians with disabilities find employment.
“An individual with a disability has just as much potential to do as well in life, but it takes a group of people to give them the supports they need,” said Tracy Hester, facility manager for Tupelo’s Ability Works, which also works with adults.
At Ability Works, the students perform various jobs for which they earn a salary, and they also participate in job-training activities up to five days per week.
Jobs are done for companies that contract with Ability Works. Tasks include packaging, labeling, sorting and assembling. Participants receive training in creating a resume, woodworking, interviewing for jobs and managing money, among other skills. They also can complete online job applications or practice for their driver’s license test.
“It enhances the person’s ability to become a productive member of society,” said Keely Green, district manager for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, also a branch of the MDRS.
Lee County is the first school district to place its students at Tupelo’s Ability Works, although other facilities in the state have such agreements with schools.
Four Lee County students are currently participating in the program, which is for high school seniors, and the district plans to soon increase that number.
Special education teachers refer students to Mona Broyles, transition counselor for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. They must meet the Mississippi Department of Education criteria for having a disability and also be willing to work. Broyles meets with them and places them in the program.
“This provides career-ready skills for Lee County students with a disability,” said Anthony Bryant, assistant special education director for the school district.
Students can remain at Ability Works after they graduate as they seek work. The goal, Broyles said, is to “get them into a job where they can become an independent person.”