Giving students with disabilities a voice empowers them to speak up for their wants and wishes. But give them “a voice and a choice,” and they’re on the road to achieving their dreams.
That’s the goal behind PennWorks, a unique, community-wide partnership initiated by Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12. The effort incorporates national certifications into traditional career training. Certificate holders are no longer trained for a specific workplace – perhaps a local hotel or manufacturer – but can transport their skills throughout an industry.
“A lot of time, we help students work in the community, which is great,” said LIU 12 Director of Special Education Dr. Lynn Murphy. “Sometimes, that limits them to learning that specific skill at that specific organization or employer. When they have opportunities to get national certification, they can have some choice of where they want to go, where they want to live, and where they want to work.”
PennWorks partners span the range of York County business, economic development, education, and disabilities services. LIU 12 is adapting curriculum to nationally recognized standards, with a “soft pilot” launching in April 2018. Lessons learned from the pilot, serving four students in two school districts, will make PennWorks a universal program, applicable to all settings.
“It is our goal to make this a portable program, so if it works in one district, it can work in any district,” said Murphy.
Through PennWorks, each student will receive personalized training and education, building the skills needed to achieve certification. Community agencies and schools partner to deliver customized learning, and parents learn how to help their children become advocates for their own independence and career goals.
“Through PennWorks, students with disabilities might not have to settle on one place to work for the rest of their lives,” said Murphy. “They have a voice and a choice in where they want to be employed.”