Starting Career Conversations with our Youngest Students, Easy as 1, 2, 3…

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As a teacher of students with visual impairments, incorporating the expanded core curriculum into lessons for our younger students some are easier to include than others. For our younger population, birth through early elementary age, the recognition that there was a void for our students in the area of early exposure to career choices and meeting blind or visually impaired adult mentors in the workforce I knew needed to be addressed. Where a typical sighted peer gains information about potential jobs and work experiences by traveling through their environment on a daily basis just by observing people at work, our students need this information to be brought to them so that they can have the same opportunities to explore possible job options as their peers do. The model I created allows families to learn about the many supports BESB, (Bureau of Education Services for the Blind), offers as their child grows into adulthood, and think about where they can see their child as they mature and grow while gaining the understanding that they are capable of anything that they set their minds to.

Last spring, I organized a field trip to bring preschool and early elementary school students and their families together for a fun and informative day. The gathering enabled preschool families to connect with early elementary families and give them a chance to ask questions or get some clarification of the transition from preschool to school age services. In addition to the transitional component, the day also included entertainment guided by an adult BESB client/student mentor, and exposure to our Business Enterprise Program. The day incorporated a number of areas of the expanded core curriculum, with a specific focus on career exposure for our students and showcase successful blind or low vision adults in the workforce as mentors for our students.

For our younger students, families are still learning about services we as an agency provide, and in many cases are taking it one day at a time. I wanted not only our students to be aware of options for them as they get older, but also to educate the families as well. Tapping into the resources BESB offers to students and adult clients throughout the state was my first step.

I was able to connect with a legally blind small business owner, Judy Potter, through the help of one of our Vocational Rehabilitation counselors who had worked with Judy in the past. I explained my vision, and I was able to recruit her for the day. Judy, owner of “It’s Theatre Time”, incorporated theater into her story telling as she invited the children up to participate and act out the story she read. Music, singing and audience participation were woven into each play, and the children had the opportunity at the end of the performance to come up and strum Judy’s guitar for the ending sing along.

Judy uses a white cane to travel. Her involvement of the day provided a wonderful opportunity for communication with the children as they naturally asked questions about blindness, or in Judy’s case, what it is like to be partially blind. Judy’s independence and orientation and mobility skills around the park really hit home for some families of our young blind and low vision students giving them a glimpse at what their children have the capability of achieving as their skills improve and they grow from dependent children to independent adults.

The site I chose, Gillette Castle State Park,  I also wanted to include a vocational/transition focus. Choosing Gillette Castle introduced our young families for the first time to The Randolph Sheppard Act of 1936. This particular act established the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), which was designed to help people who are blind gain financial independence. The BEP program supported by BESB provides participants training to support business growth and entrepreneurship by owning and operating their own vending facility on federal or state property.

The on-site licensed blind vendor, Brandy Altergott owner and operator of Sherlock;s Grille,  provided the students and their families with a wonderful hot lunch and shared her experience with them about how she grew up with BESB services beginning in the School Age division and transitioning to college with the support of our Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors eventually owning her own business through the BEP training program.

In our agency we have multiple divisions to support our students and this day was a way to highlight each division including Preschool all the way through Business Enterprise. As our students get older they experience not only transitions in their own lives, but also interagency transitions within the state of CT. The way we support our students and families, as well as the way services are delivered can change and evolve as well, was valuable information for our families. Gillette Castle was the perfect backdrop to introduce and highlight other aspects of our agency and the positive feedback from our adult clients who have been with us for many years.

This model for early exposure to career options can be easily modified and replicated not only in Connecticut but across state borders to introduce a number of vocational choices to our young students. I was able to use the same model as I approached the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, who also has a blind adult on their staff, and was able to give the students a chance to see behind the scenes work responsibilities of a zoo keeper while providing a mentor for them at the same time. The possibilities for learning and our students are endless!

You too can replicate this model for you students in three easy steps;

  1. Reach out to Vocational Rehabilitation or Business Enterprise counselors in your community to make connections with blind or low vision professionals and career options you can showcase.
  2. Locate a family friendly site to host your event, providing some sort of entertainment such as a music therapist, arts and crafts, etc.
  3. Invite your young families to come and participate in a fun and informative day!

This article was previously posted by Beth to familyconnect.org on 11/30/2017. Read original article here; Family Connect Article 11/30/17

 

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