Transition services in full swing for students with disabilities

A new program is available to students ages 14 to 21 with disabilities and those receiving mental health or Section 504 services. Thanks to changes to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA), which develops new and expands innovative strategies and programs to provide transition services, including Pre-Employment Transition Services (PETS) to students eligible to participate.

Bollinger Enterprises, Inc. (BEI) has partnered with the Warren County School District to provide PETS services to eligible students. Approved by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), BEI started providing PETS services in district schools on Dec. 12 of 2016.

The program, provided as a service to the school district, offers transitioning students with group services such as Independent Living Skills Training, Self-Advocacy Training, and Work Readiness Training. Designed to teach students soft skills and experience needed to do well in a competitive work environment, it addresses the state’s current push to get those with developmental and intellectual disabilities excited about and able to work outside the traditional sheltered workshop.

The group services are provided in a classroom setting, and after successful completion, students enrolled in the program  are able to take advantage of individual services such as Job Shadowing, and Work Based Learning Experiences.

Brian Freeborough is the person tasked with providing the services district-wide.

“He fits right into the role,” said Kim Nowell, Rehabilitation Supervisor at BEI. Born and raised in Warren, Freeborough got his degree in Psychology before working 21 years at a nonprofit similar to BEI as a Vocational Supervisor. From there, Freeborough spent 12 years in Arizona in the mental health field, and then came home, taking an aide position with the Warren County School District. “The school already knew him,” said Nowell, “he fit right in.”

The program is new, Freeborough said, and the biggest challenge is in working with the wide age ranges of 14 through 21. The group classes run in cohorts similar to the Aggression Replacement Therapy cohorts at Family Services of Warren County, spending around eight weeks on each of the three core skills in the group instruction component of the program. Freeborough said that one of the things he’s seeing as a way to overcome that challenge is to use the experiences and interests of the older students to engage younger students and get them thinking about what they’d like to do. A hope, he said, is for the enthusiasm he sees with the younger students spill over into the older age ranges. “They’re learning as much from one another,” said Freeborough, as they are from him.

While around 300 students are eligible for the program, it is an optional class and, said Freeborough, he’s got a group of around 159 students this semester who’ve opted in. Part of the problem, Nowell said, is that parents may not be sure what benefit there is to a non-credit class like Freeborough’s.

Part of what Freeborough is working on this semester is figuring out ways to keep students from being pulled from important credit classes or exams for the program. Still, said Freeborough, because there is such a push toward getting students transitioning from school to work into competitive employment situations, it’s important for students to start thinking about independent living and work readiness skills early. “We take some of the things that they’ve already been taught in some classes,” said Freeborough, and put a real-world approach on it.

Freeborough said one of the most important things students learn through the program is creating positive reputations for themselves early, and maintaining them throughout adolescence and early adulthood. Developing personal references, Freeborough said, especially in a small community like Warren, is as important as developing professional references.

Freeborough currently teaches five group classes, five days a week, at six district schools: Beaty and Warren Area High School make up his largest student population, with eight classes just at WAHS. He also teaches at Youngsville Elementary/Middle and High Schools, Eisenhower, and Sheffield.

For more information on PETS programming in the district, contact Dr. Patricia Hawley, Director of Pupil Services, at (814) 723-6900 or Dr. William Clark, Executive Director of BEI, at (814) 723-8431.