By Amanda Burdette
WESTMINSTER – The multi-colored beach volleyball came over the net with force and landed on the court – point scored. It was Sarah Hartig’s turn to serve. Her face lit up as 18-year-old John Lewis bent near her wheelchair to hold the ball.
Sarah, 20, tried to send the ball aloft with impaired hands. The challenge was met with John’s help. He gave the ball a push; it soared. “Good job Sarah!” John exclaimed.
For 17 students enrolled in the Carroll County Schools’ Post Secondary Program for developmentally disabled students, support during gym class and in the classroom is the rule, not the exception.
Special education students complete 12th grade in the same fashion as everyone else, said Harry Fogle, special education supervisor, who worked with the local board of education to change graduation policy.
“After spending 12 years with their fellow students, they want to march across the stage. They want class rings, pictures and all the non-academic things that go along with graduating from high school,” Fogle said.
The students attend a half day of school at Carroll County Community College and work the other half at jobs found for them by the program. Participating locations include: Carroll Lutheran Village, a health care center; Giant, Super Fresh, Ruby Tuesday’s, Chick-Fil-A, Roy Rogers, Western Maryland College, the YMCA and Robert Motin Elementary School.
Fogle said the program started three-and-a-half years ago out of a community need.
“We went to employers and asked what skills they are lacking and asked parents what skills they want their children to have by the age of 21 or before. Then we went to each of the schools and interviewed the students,” he said.
The students clean windows, collect trash, bag groceries, wash dishes, take phone messages and run errands. But the program does more than job placement. It teaches students daily living skills such as how to make a bed, how to pay bills and how to ignore telephone solicitors, said Jane Conner, transition coordinator of Carroll County Public Schools.
Donald A. Rowe of Carroll County Association of Retarded Citizens, who teaches the students three days a week, asked the students what they would do if someone at work told an offensive dirty joke. A young woman replied that she would tell the person to stop.
Rowe persisted: What if it doesn’t stop when you ask? Several students called out, “I’d tell them to stop.”
Rowe instructed the students to talk to a supervisor, explaining that this could be harassment. “One of the definitions of harassment is if it interferes with your ability to do work,” he said.
Later, Rowe said the program offers a “wonderful partnership” with the community college, social services, the board of education and the Rotary Club, which has had speakers provide career talks.
“There used to a lot of gaps in the process” of placing developmentally disabled students into jobs, he said, but it is now “a smooth transition” because the social service groups place the students into jobs with adult supervision.
Patty Terano, a job coach for the program, said she supports the students on the job. She initially looks over the student’s shoulder and helps when it is needed. But once the student has the job down, “there is a fade away time,” she said.
She called her job “very challenging and very rewarding. When you see a student succeed it is wonderful.”
Terano added that the community has been wonderful in “taking time help students get into the jobs.”
Mike Hutton, operator of the Chick-Fil-A in Cranberry Mall, said the restaurant began working with the students before he arrived, and continued to because “I thought it was a great program.”
The students do “tasks they have the physical and mental ability” to handle, such as wiping off tables and battering chicken, he said. Every quarter, they are evaluated on criteria including attendance, quality and quantity of work, skills learned and leadership abilities.
“They love what they are doing. They are doing a job most people would hate to do, but they are thankful to have the chance,” Hutton said.
Sometimes, he added, they perform better than other workers because they are enthusiastic and excited about what they are doing.
Lexi Schafer, volunteer coordinator at Carroll Lutheran Village, said the two students currently working there visit with the residents for about 90 minutes one morning a week.
Kelly Sullivan, a 19-year-old student in the program who works at Carroll Lutheran Village, said she likes the job and is learning a lot. “Talking to people is fun,” she said. -30-