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MCPS, FEAT promote careers for students with disabilities

SoVaNow.com / September 22, 2021
Mecklenburg County Public Schools will be collaborating with FEAT (Families Experiencing Autism Together) to provide job training and coaching for Mecklenburg County junior and senior students who might not otherwise have the opportunity due to a learning limitation or special need.

Mandy Calhoun, one of the founders of FEAT, made the announcement at Monday night’s meeting of the Mecklenburg County School Board in Boydton.

She said the organization she helped found, recently received a community empowerment grant from Microsoft to fund its newly created LINCS program.

FEAT was started in 2016 after Calhoun’s son was diagnosed with Autism at age 4.

LINCS stands for Learning in Networks of Community Support. The program collaborates with businesses, families local support services and now, Mecklenburg County Public Schools to bring meaningful career opportunities to individuals with disabilities living in the area.

Erin Spence, an educational specialist with MCPS Department of Student Services, read about the program on social media and reached out to Calhoun.

This first year, FEAT and MCPS have identified 11 students who will participate in the LINCS program — nine from Park View High School and two from Bluestone High School.

Calhoun said the students will each work at a local business six hours each week, three hours on Tuesday and three hours on Thursday. Assisting the students during their participation in the program will be a teacher, an aide and additional support staff provided by FEAT.

The program kicks off Oct. 12. On Monday, the students “will get ready for the work week. Tuesday, they will work at their designated place of employment for three hours. Transportation to and from the job will be provided by the school division as will a bag lunch. On Wednesday the students will meet with their teacher and aid to review the work experience. Thursday is a repeat of Tuesday and Fridays are set aside to recap the week and prepare for the next week.

FEAT will provide the students with a “uniform” comprised of khaki pants and a white polo shirt with the LINCS logo embroidered on it.

Calhoun said this experience will “give these kids life skills, work experience and maybe a job to which they can he hired after graduation.” More importantly, she said work-study programs like this instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in the students who take part.

According to Calhoun, less than 50 percent of students enrolled in Mecklenburg County Public Schools who have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) because of a special need are enrolled in higher education or employed in the year following their graduation from high school. The state target is 72 percent. Only 34 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64 are employed. An equal number work in a sheltered setting, as opposed to a competitive workplace — even though most employers who hire workers with intellectual or developmental disorders rate them as good to very good workers on most performance factors.

Trustee Dora Garner asked if students participating in the LINCS program could continuing working through the summer. Calhoun said, “I think it would be a wonderful opportunity,” but that would be up to the employer and the student and their parents or guardians. That employment would be outside of the LINCS program.

In other business,

Trustees were asked to approve a policy change that would limit the time periods during which in-school food sale fund raisers could take place. If approved during the October meeting, the new policy would stop all food fund raisers from taking place during meal periods, both breakfast and lunch.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols described the opening of the 2021-22 school year as “a bit more hectic” due to changes in place because of the ongoing covid pandemic. A number of bus drivers are running two routes and “they are struggling,” said Nichols. “We’re trying to find new drivers.”

He praised the members of the transportation department, including the bus drivers for their efforts through the first three weeks of school. He expressed hope that the driver shortage can be alleviated.

Because of the shortage of drivers, Nichols said the schools have had to implement a policy whereby any student who misses their bus will have a parent or guardian called to pick them up. The bus will be unable to return to the school for the student.

Overall, Nichols said the students appear to be excited to be back in school. So far this year there have been fewer discipline issues. He acknowledged that every school has had to quarantine students or a classroom at least once during the first three weeks.

Concerned parents asked about virtual learning. That option is no longer available to students not already signed up. Both the Virtual Virginia online learning and VAVA’s K-12 programs are closed to new enrollees so that classes for the students accepted into the programs could begin.

Nichols’ assessment is that “the start of the year has gone well as it could have gone.”



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I would like to ask each Board of Supervisor member if you owned a business and found out that one of your employees had stolen from you would you allow him to take vacation and get paid benefits. If you say yes to this, then maybe you need to focus on your business and give up your seat on the board.


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