Work experience: Real-life successes for students with disabilities

Iowa schools, in partnership with business and industry, are providing students with skill development to meet the 21st Century and Iowa Future Ready work readiness.   One of the ways schools meet the needs of students in the area of work is through a school or community job placement or what is referred to as work experience.  For students with a disability, a work experience helps the student build sound work habits and attitudes. In addition, the experience helps develop realistic expectations by participating in actual work prior to entering the workforce and allows students to work on the necessary social and personal skills needed to live and work as a productive member of the community.

Many school districts contract with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA)  to provide work experience for students with a disability.  A Central Rivers AEA Work Experience Coordinator collaborates with the school team to determine what skills the student needs to develop.  Once the skills are identified the student is placed on the job.  Skill instruction and evaluation are done in conjunction with the job supervisor.  For many students, a high school work experience leads to successful employment upon graduation. Here are a few student success stories from across Central Rivers AEA.

“Chris” started work experience in the school custodial department where he developed social skills and learned how to follow directions by using video modeling. He then moved on to work in an auto shop where he practiced repetition of tasks using a customized key ring with visual prompts to help support him.  From there, “Chris” worked with a peer mentor in a grocery store where he learned how to successfully interact with customers.  The use of a specially designed card kept in his wallet helped “Chris” remember to complete his assigned tasks.  After graduation, “Chris” was hired at that same grocery store while enrolling in a welding program at the local community college. Upon earning his welding certification, “Chris” secured a job at a local factory where he has successfully maintained employment.

“Andrew”, a student in a residential placement, has worked to develop appropriate work behaviors and self-advocacy skills through his work experience opportunities. He started with small group activities to learn and practice skills and moved to an on campus work site with custodial tasks. Presently, “Andrew” is working in the community at a local church performing custodial tasks.  He has utilized the supports of multiple community agencies to improve his academic skills, maintain positive work behaviors and has taken steps to enroll in community college after high school.

Successful transition to adult living, learning and working is the goal for all students as they graduate from high school.  For students with disabilities, reducing barriers and supporting skill development to meet future expectations is key in the educational process.  A work experience placement can provide all students with the skills needed to reach their incredible potential as successful adults.

Lupkes, Ann Staff ID# 101130Ann Lupkes is a Work Experience/Transition Coordinator with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA). She can be reached at Central Rivers AEA supports educators, parents, and the communities we serve as we work together toward one ultimate goal: to improve student learning. We provide support in the areas of quality classroom materials, curriculum planning, best practices in teaching and learning, safe and caring learning environment, appropriate educational opportunities for all learners, technology planning, professional learning, assessment, special education, leadership development, and more. Learn more at