Friday, May 23, 2008

Texas special ed students receive valuable work experiences

Meagan Flynn works at Schlotzsky's, where her boss says
she is a dependable asset to the business.

According to the Austin American Statesman, hundreds of special education students in Central Texas schools are transitioning into the community as paid, productive workers, primarily because of public school programs that prepare them for employment and employers who offer them jobs.

"Half a million students in the state's 1,200 public school districts and charter schools are classified as having challenges ranging from autism and mental retardation to physical and emotional disabilities," according to Gene Lenz, deputy assistant commissioner for special programs with the Texas Education Agency.

In 2008, 50 special education students took classes ranging from agricultural studies to culinary arts at the Clifton Career Development School in Austin. About 30 percent of the 536,000 mentally disabled Texans ages 21 to 64 were employed in 2005, according to state figures.

"Studies show that special (education) students who worked during their school years are more likely to work after they leave the public schools," Lenz said.

Austin High School student Matthew Wright, 21, says the money he receives from his job as a messenger for the Texas Senate will help him live on his own at some point.

"I want to live independently," said Wright, who learned his workplace skills through Austin school district programs that train students with disabilities. "You have to pay your utility bills and your phone bills, and how can you order movies if you don't have money?"