This fall, Perkins welcomes the first participants of its Co-op Program, a new venture dedicated to helping public school and Perkins students transition to college or work. For four months during the school year, students reside in on-campus apartments and work a part-time job off campus. Dorinda Rife, superintendent of Educational Programs, sat down with Perspectives to discuss this innovative program.
Why did Perkins create the Co-op Program?
We do a really good job of getting students ready for college, group homes and day placements. But those kids who are not necessarily going to college, or students who are going to college but just need general work skills, may never have had an opportunity to work. Most teens who are blind didn't have the babysitting jobs or paper routes that you and I had at age 16. I have a pocketful of stories of kids who were turned down because employers couldn't envision how they could possibly do the work, even kids who are really capable.
What is the Co-op curriculum like?
The idea is for students to focus on certain independent living skills and go to work half time, about 20 hours a week. They'll spend a week or two doing resume building and interview skills, even if they already have a job. We tailor the curriculum to the individual. If there's one hallmark to teaching kids who are vision impaired, it's that no two are alike.
Who are the employers?
Right now, we're working with Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. They've been amazing and have really embraced us and our kids. We often find work in hospitals because there are a multitude of different kinds of jobs people can do, and those organizations are accustomed to utilizing volunteers. Two of our students are also working at Target, and we have kids at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., a local engineering firm.
What is the end goal?
Our ultimate goal is to get them out and ready to go to college and out into the work world. Our kids are limited in their career choices because they literally haven't seen the options, plus they don't have appropriate work skills. It's amazing to me how a small issue can happen at a job site and the whole situation ends up being unsuccessful. We want to show these kids the opportunities that are out there, and give them the skills and support to be successful at work. The unemployment rate among people who are blind is 75 percent. Our ultimate goal is to lower that rate.
Why is Perkins the right place for this program?
We've put it all together in one place. It's not common to have this approach of combined work and independent living. We have people with extensive skills teaching these kinds of things. And we have apartments that accommodate the needs of the students. It's a symphony of services that make that happen. We had a student here last year who says it changed her life; without it she wouldn't have been ready for college at all.