Aspire and Earlywood team up to help students with disabilities

A partnership between Earlywood Educational Services and Aspire Johnson County aims to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to find employment locally after leaving high school.

The partnership, announced Tuesday, comes from a $551,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Education’s Explore, Engage and Experience (3E) initiative. The money will be used to pay the salaries of two employees. A Community Employment Coordination Specialist will work with Earlywood to identify students who may be best for certain employment opportunities. A school-to-work specialist, hired by Aspire, will work with local businesses to find opportunities for students with disabilities, said Angela Balsley, executive director of Earlywood.

The grant will also pay for the Enabled Workforce initiative, intended to train these companies on how to support these people, according to a press release from Aspire.

Earlywood Educational Services helps 4,540 students with Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, in six school districts, including schools in Greenwood, Franklin, Indian Creek, Edinburgh, Southwestern and Flat Rock. Clark-Pleasant and Center Grove Schools have also been invited to participate in the jobs initiative, which will run through September 2023, she said.

“It will take an individualized approach with strengths and interests, preferences and needs, and match them with employers and their accommodation needs can be met,” Balsley said. “People with disabilities are the largest underemployed minority group. Maybe someone is not interviewing well and has poor eye contact and we can help them understand the interview process and rehearse with them. Maybe an employer is hesitant to hire them because they don’t understand the needs of the individuals.

Aspire will provide training for companies to work with students with disabilities. Although these training sessions have not yet taken place, the partnership between Earlywood and the local business community will not only help students looking for jobs, but also companies in need of talented workers, said Christian Maslowski, President and CEO of Aspire.

“Hearing this made me think about the untapped potential of new workers, employees and interns, which may be overlooked or underutilized right now. Besides, it’s the right thing to do,” Maslowski said. When we think of students with disabilities, we are talking about a wide range of abilities, if a student may have dyslexia or hearing loss, they are considered disabled, but they are fully capable and capable of carrying on and learning to work.

As the program continues, it can help not only high school students or a transition-to-adult special education program, but also students in younger grades, Balsley said.

“In the lower grades, when you think of soft skills, it’s dependability, dependability and independence,” she said. “You think about these in a developmentally appropriate way in younger grades, and you can develop that by following instruction, self-management, and communication skills.”

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