STRIVE program prepares students for employment
“It’s an opportunity for students who will encounter barriers to employment to gain work experience,” said Colleen Cram, transition coordinator at Hatboro-Horsham High School.
The high school has utilized a district-run, community-based work experience for about eight years now, and the program has recently been renamed STRIVE, or Striving To Reach Independence through Vocational Experience. “STRIVE provides students with the opportunity to learn transferable employability skills, and to take what we’re teaching them in school and practice it in an authentic environment,” said Cram.
Some of the employability skills that the students work on with the support of a job coach are: communication, problem solving, self-direction, following directions and collaborating. “Students with disabilities have a greater chance of being successful in gaining and maintaining employment if they’ve had a work experience of some type during high school,” said Cram.
She currently works with about 10 community partnerships as well as the school district where students can work in the administration building or in food services. Cram collaborates with the community partner to determine if the work experience is paid or unpaid, how many hours the student works and other details to customize the experience so it is beneficial to both the student and the employer.
Two students are currently in paid work experiences and could possibly keep these jobs after they graduate from Hatboro-Horsham School District. However, even if the experience is unpaid, it has a positive impact on both the student and the organization. The employees love seeing the students at their businesses. They enjoy engaging with them and helping the students learn new things. One student had a hard time interacting with others at times, but at his unpaid work experience at a warehouse, he improved his social skills, and the employees enjoy talking to him about sports and other topics. “Employees love having him around because it improves work morale,” said Cram.
Ultimately, the employability skills students learn in these work experiences are transferable to jobs students will have in the future. “When students are ready to get jobs they want for the rest of their lives, they’re ready for it,” said Cram.