Special ed director visits Coweta Goodwill
Georgia Special Education Services Director Debbie Gay visited Coweta County recently, to get a first-hand look at a partnership between the Coweta County School System and Goodwill Industries aimed at preparing students for careers after high school.
Gay met with Coweta County School System special needs students, teachers and Goodwill Industries representatives at the Newnan East Goodwill service center at Thomas Crossroads, to learn more about Coweta’s “Equip 2 Excel” program.
“I appreciate the work you’re doing here,” Gay told Coweta County School System and Goodwill representatives. “We are really interested in best practices that prepare students for careers post-high school. This is a model partnership for the whole state.”
Since the beginning of the school year, 10 special needs students – ranging in age from 19 to 21, from all three Coweta County high schools – have participated in job training at the Goodwill Career Center as a part of the “Equip 2 Excel” program. The program helps students make transition from high school to the world of work and careers by combining school instruction and support within a workplace setting.
“These are students who have completed all required coursework at their base school, and are participating in this program to gain additional employment and transition skills in a real-world environment” said Melissa Casablanca, a Special Education Program Specialist for the school system. “The aim of the program is to increase positive outcomes for special needs students after they leave high school.”
Students train in Goodwill’s Thomas Crossroads center during the regular school day, and receive instruction and support on-site from Special Education Teacher Toni Noles. Coweta special education teachers such as Noles provide employment training and workforce skills to high school students, and the workplace setting at Goodwill augments that training.
In addition to partnering with the school system for the program, Goodwill will also help the students search for jobs with local employers at the end of the school year through its career service center. Goodwill can also provide ongoing counseling and career support for the students after they leave high school.
The Newnan East Goodwill service center is located at 3121 East Highway 34 in the Thomas Crossroads area. In addition to retail space, the center includes a career service and training center. Job training and programs are core mission services for Goodwill of the Southern Rivers. Money raised from the sale of items donated to its stores helps fund those services, including the career centers and training centers.
The “Equip 2 Excel” partnership and this year’s pilot program began after members of Coweta’s Special Education Department saw a presentation of a similar program in Goodwill’s Columbus, Georgia service center, during a meeting of the West Georgia Transition Council
“Our Special Education Department had been searching for a program to extend the real-world, off site work experiences that they currently receive as part of their educational experience,” said Coweta Special Education Director Gina Murray. “So when Goodwill was planning to open their new training center at Thomas Crossroads, we were able to collaborate with them from the beginning.”
Coweta’s program expanded on the Columbus model. Coweta students who have completed their school-based coursework are provided an opportunity to practice job skills in a professional setting and also learn independent living skills with on-site educational support. The program reinforces the school system’s student career goals of job readiness, positive behavior, go-to-work attitude, independence, and increased confidence, through the specific instruction in soft skills, opportunities for skill certification, and real work experience.
“An initiative like this was seen as a critical need by not only the Special Education Department, but also the parents of these students, and community members involved in the West Georgia Transition Council” said Casablanca.
“The program provides a critical bridge for these students to enter the workplace and receive ongoing support and coaching even after they exit the school system,” said Stacey Barnett, Special Education Program Specialist.
Gay met with Murray, Casablanca and Barnett, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers Director Kathy Carlisle and Manager Lisa Hicks, and Goodwill representatives Chris Bryant, Tim Mercer, Carla Floyd, and Carol Ann Fields. The group toured the Thomas Crossroads Goodwill Training and Service Center and retail store, met with Noles and her Coweta students, and heard a presentation of the partnership by Carlisle and Murray. Gay has asked that Coweta and Goodwill representatives make a presentation on the partnership at the Georgia Department of Education’s state-wide meeting this spring in Athens.
Goodwill is currently seeking employers to collaborate in this effort. Those interested in finding out more about the “Equip 2 Excel” initiative can contact Kathy Carlisle, Goodwill Director of Mission Advancement and Development, at 706-256-1829 (firstname.lastname@example.org). They can also contact Stacey Barnett or Melissa Casablanca (Special Education Program Specialists with the Coweta County School System) at 770-254-2800 or (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ).