HISD has several programs to help young adults with significant disabilities transition successfully from high school to a productive adult life. In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we are featuring three of these programs. This is the third in the series. Read the first in the series, about students at the Houston Food Bank, here, and the second in the series, about students working with Texas Children’s Health plan, here.
HISD teacher Jilianne Barzilla begins her HISD-Houston Community College Transition class each morning with physical warm-up exercises to get her students’ blood flowing. After that, she grabs a large purple ball and asks them to think of three words to describe themselves. She tosses the ball to a tall young man named Patrick.
“Three words that describe me are positive, friendly, and supportive,” he said. The class applauds, and Patrick throws the ball to Brandon (only the person holding the ball can speak) who says, “Three words that describe me are organized, confident, and open-minded.” The exercise continues until every student has had a chance to speak. Others describe themselves as ambitious, patient, cheerful, helpful, creative, approachable, responsible, and kind.
The HISD-HCC Transition Program has been helping HISD students with disabilities find gainful employment since 1994, and currently 24 students are enrolled. Two HISD teachers work in the classroom with students, teaching them skills to help them find and keep a job – how to complete an application, interview for that position, and use public transportation to get to and from work.
The class takes various excursions to places within the community to learn more about living and working in our city. These trips include a tour of Reliant Stadium, an interactive shopping experience at H-E-B with Field Trip Factory, an art lesson at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, and a tour of the Houston Zoo. This December the students are going to Alley Theatre to see “A Christmas Carol.”
Two employment representatives rotate small groups of students to experience Community Based Vocational Instruction (CBVI) at various job sites, including TIRR Memorial Herman, HISD South Field Office, Blackshear Elementary, H-E-B, Walgreens, the Houston Public Library, and Goodwill. These training sites are extensions of the classroom that provide hands-on training.
Brandon attended Bellaire High School last year and is looking forward to finding employment. “This program teaches us to make good choices and be responsible, set goals and work to achieve them,” he said. Brandon would like a job that allows him to travel abroad.
Patrick from Lamar High School plans to be a mixed-martial arts teacher and is currently taking a martial arts class. He and Brandon serve as Eagle Club representatives to the larger HCC meetings of the school’s various clubs. The Eagle Club is a service organization primarily composed of HISD and VAST Academy students at HCC. The HCC VAST Academy is in the same building as the transition program and provides post-secondary transition programs and support services for these students after they graduate from high school. Six HISD students were accepted into the VAST Program last year after completing the transition program.
Cora attended Worthing High School and is already working evenings and weekends while in school. She found a job at Walmart by networking with a friend who works there, and she also works at NRG Park. Herbert from Jack Yates High School plans to find a service job so that he can help people. He mentions “Meals on Wheels” as one organization where he would like to work.
The transition training from high school to the real world is not only for HISD students but also their families, who must learn to adjust to their son or daughter’s new independence. Parents are part of the team that works together to connect the students with their next step after high school.
“It is truly amazing to see a student grow up before your eyes, and in their year with us, that is what happens to every single one of our students,” Barzilla said.
In addition to the community based classes at HCC’s campus, the Houston Food Bank, and at Texas Children’s Health Plan, HISD also has four campus based 18+ transition classes for students ages 18 to 22 at Wisdom, Madison, Houston and Wheatley high schools. Students work on curriculum in areas of employability, community living, daily living, and lifelong learning. Home base is at a high school campus; however, students also participate in CBVI experiences out in the community.
Currently, employed by HISD’s Food Services Department as food-service attendant is graduate Ryan Blake. Ryan spent a year in Wisdom’s 18+ transition class, where he participated in CBVI at Pilgrim Academy in the cafeteria. See Ryan’s story here.