International Campus

Workforce grant will help special education students

GREENVILLE — Students at Greenville High School are headed for many things after graduation, but the couch won’t be one of them.

Renee Calleja and Katie Williams, learning support teachers at Greenville High School, were awarded a $15,000 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Grant from the West Central Workforce Development Board.

The grant will help special education students at the high school to develop a post-graduation plan with job shadowing opportunities and tours of career training facilities. Every special education student has an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, which provides an educational strategy for that student.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to expand our horizons for our students,” said Connie Timashenka, the district’s special education director. “The worst thing for our students with IEP’s is that they go home to a couch after they graduate.”

The learning support teachers work with their students to help them find work and excel after graduation, Timashenka said. It’s important that students feel like they’re a part of something, she said.

She said it’s noticeable when a student is living up to his or her potential.

“There’s a pop in their step. They know they have a contribution to make. They walk 10 feet higher,” Timashenka said.

The grant will focus on three areas — career education, work-based education and parental support.

With the grant funding, students will hear public speakers and participate in field trips to places that provide job shadowing experiences or career education opportunities. Students will be paired with professionals in fields that interest them at Slippery Rock University, Thiel College and St. Paul’s, a nursing home and independent living center.

Butler Community College, Laurel Technical Institute, New Castle School of Trades, Keystone Mountain Lake Carpenters Union Training Facility and Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGAC) all provide post high school instruction, and students will be able to tour these schools with the grant.

Other facilities, still to be determined, could participate in the grant program.

Andrews Center in Johnstown is a training facility that is like a college with dorm rooms and a recreational center, but it also supports students with physical, occupational, emotional or speech therapy while they complete their programs, Calleja said. The center offers career opportunities in subjects like the culinary arts, engine repair, business and retail, building maintenance and much more.

Last year the learning support teachers took three students to the HGAC. This year, there are 15 to 20 kids scheduled for the trip.

At last year’s field trip to HGAC, Williams said she saw a roof set up on jacks only a few feet from the ground to accommodate a student who wanted to become a carpenter, but was afraid of heights.

The school set up the roof in a way so that he could practice his skills without being afraid. Slowly, instructors raised the roof to a standard building height so the student could become acclimated and find out whether he could overcome the fear, Williams said.

The grant as a whole provides so many opportunities for students, Calleja said.

“It’s just very exciting. I’m just so proud of them because they’re so capable of doing so much. And this just gives them an opportunity to prove that. This grant just gives them options.”

Superintendent Mark Ferrara said thank you to Calleja and Williams’ hard work.

“The benefits will be tremendous and will go on for many, many years,” Ferrara said. “It’s a very nice Christmas gift, so thank you.”