Reading, writing and arithmetic are the basics of education. But Garland ISD also teaches skills needed to start careers. Partnering with Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions LLC, the district is helping students find their place in the workforce before leaving GISD.
The two have teamed up to launch Project Search—a national program for special education students.
“Atlas Copco is pleased to be partnering with GISD to focus on the abilities of young adults by providing hands-on work experiences,” said Human Resources Manager Jessica Byrd.
“Providing training and services that will help students with disabilities make a successful transition from high school to post-school activities is extremely important,” added Nidia Parra, GISD’s director of Special Education. “Finding the right job is not easy for any individual. It is especially difficult for individuals who face special challenges, such as a disability. My hope is that our students will gain essential job skills that will result in a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves.”
Project Search began in 1996 as a partnership between Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and its local disability services organizations to fill entry-level positions. The program has now grown to include more than 200 businesses across 40 states and four countries, breaking into Texas just this year.
Implementing one of the state’s first three Project Search programs, GISD is partnering with Atlas Copco to offer a one-year internship program for students aged 18-21. This inaugural 2013-14 year will accommodate eight special education students, who will complete three 10-week internship rotations.
“To be accepted, they had to apply and interview,” commented Bentley Parker, GISD’s Special Education coordinator. “Students chosen have met high school graduation requirements but remain in the district for additional training and support.”
Project Search helps students transition to life after school by providing a real work environment coupled with instruction from a GISD teacher and job coach. Internships include engineering, construction, inventory and administrative responsibilities. Though they may not pursue a career in manufacturing, students will learn skills that can easily transfer.
“They will learn organization, new technology, social etiquette, workplace expectations and more,” said Parker.
Internships started the first day of school, Aug. 26. Working five days a week from 6:45 a.m.-2:30 p.m., students mirror the first shift at Atlas Copco. They participate in morning calisthenics with other staff members, report to company managers and eat lunch with fellow co-workers. They also complete entrance and exit interviews.
“Atlas Copco’s generosity has gained recognition from the national program,” said GISD Transition Specialist Sandra Brown. “They have not only provided the internships, but also office and classroom space, computers, uniforms, prescription safety glasses, steel-toed shoes and physicals—everything our students need to go to work.”
“Community engagement is at the core of Atlas Copco’s culture, and this initiative has given us a unique opportunity to develop the job skills and talent of young adults right here in the Garland community,” added Byrd.
In addition to donations by Atlas Copco, GISD’s Project Search is funded through a grant from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) that is administered by Texas Tech University. Their monetary support provides an additional job coach to supplement district employees. It also funds future job placement assistance from DARS and Metrocare––a local disability services organization–after students leave GISD.
And Project Search is not the only transition program offered by the district’s Special Education Department. Garland ISD’s Transition Learning Center supports inclusive practices, age appropriate settings and community integration activities. Started in 2002, the Meeting and Catering Services program also teaches employable skills to students not yet ready for an independent work environment.
“Special Education goes beyond academics,” commented Parra. “We are life coaches, preparing students for success in any situation.