Empowering futures: Central Rivers AEA and local partnerships enhance school-based work experience for students with special needs

Group of Students Collaborating On Project In Library

Central Rivers AEA Work Experience Coordinators create an opportunity for students to develop skills necessary for the post-secondary setting. This is completed through collaboration and partnerships with area businesses, districts and community service partners. Let’s meet some of our current and former work experience students (some names have been changed).

Dawson, 12th grade: 

Dawson was unsure of his next steps or even his place in high school. His journey is a story of teamwork, dedication and collaboration. He started his work experience at a park making birdhouses during his sophomore year. His junior year he had experiences at an auto parts store and Hy-Vee. He also learned how to utilize city and county transit  to be independent. Throughout his journey, he has obtained and maintained employment at Hy-vee and Goodwill. Dawson is working towards acquiring his drivers permit. If everything continues, he will have a paid, full-time job with benefits after graduation. Dawson has benefited from receiving the support of his IEP team and community partners throughout his experience through high school. 

Mary, graduated in 2019: 

Mary is very social and loves being around people. She started her work experiences in the classroom setting. As her independent skills developed, she moved to a local nursing home completing several tasks, such as cleaning the indoor bird village, visiting with residents and working on special projects with the activities director. The next year she was able to lead and develop activities for the residents. These experiences supported her in developing her self advocacy and time management skills. Her senior year, Mary attended Project Search, riding the transit to and from school, and had three internships in the medical center. This led to full time employment, the ability to independently manage the transit system, and live with assistance in a house with roommates. She continues to be successful years after graduation.

Elias, graduated in 2015:

Nearly 10 years out of high school, Elias’s story shows the sustainability of the work experience program. He is famous at his work site for being dependable, hard working and the type of employee every employer dreams of having on their team. He is one of the top welders at Winnebago Industries in Forest City and has been working at his job since graduating from the trades program at Iowa Lakes Community College. A team approach, filled with various work experiences, led Elias to success after high school. 

These individuals are just a few examples of how the work experience program has created opportunities and successful transitions to adulthood for students with special needs. A unique plan to meet the needs of each individual makes all the difference, just ask Mary, Dawson and Elias.

Farrah Olson, work experience coordinator

Farrah Olson is a work experience coordinator with Central Rivers Area Education Agency. She can be reached at folson@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 63,500 students including 53 public school districts and 18 non-public school districts. In addition, nearly 5,000 educators rely on our agency for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles. Learn more at https://www.centralriversaea.org/about/.