Program helping disabled students

For students with disabilities, it can seem like there are relatively few options once they get through high school.

A Muncie-based school hopes to change that, adding more options for students with physical and mental challenges.

Jeanne Scheets, director of marketing and outreach with The Arc of Indiana, spoke to members of Debbie Clifford’s life skills class at Seymour High School on April 8 as a representative from Erskine Green Training Institute.

“It gives them a chance to experience what others take for granted — going to college, learning to use public transportation, social skills,” Clifford said of the program.

According to Erskine Green’s website, the institute is focused on providing students with disabilities with postsecondary training necessary to receive jobs in the nursing, restaurant and hotel industries as well as life skills needed for a healthy adult life.

Unemployment in individuals with disabilities is a major factor in development. According to the website, in 2013, as much as 87 percent of these individuals were unemployed.

“A lot of students in our program do not get a diploma when they finish but simply a certificate of completion for high school,” Clifford said. “That limits the jobs they can get.”

Students in the life skills classes at Seymour High School learn skills required for day-to-day life, such as cooking, food preparation, social interaction, laundry and other skills.

The skills classes run a coffee shop, a laundry service for the students and school cafeteria and the Owl Cafe, which gets meals and drinks for teachers at the school.

Clifford said the reward students earn when they finish high school, however, often is not a diploma or even in many cases a general education diploma and is not recognized by most jobs or postsecondary locations, making it impossible for those who finished school to get jobs.

“We had one student who wanted to be a nurse. (Employers and schools) told her that wasn’t going to happen,” Clifford said.

Scheets said becoming involved in the health care industry is possible with jobs such as dietetics, patient transportation and environmental services.

“It allows students to go to school. It allows students to stay away from home and learn,” she said while speaking to the class.

Erskine Green keeps two teachers with degrees in special education, a student support specialist, a nurse, a community living specialist and support and an overnight support technician on staff, allowing students to “go away to college” while still catering to special medical and learning needs.

The school follows much the same schedule as normal schools, having class from morning to afternoon, and students stay in a hotel as a dorm — the same hotel that individuals in the school use as hotel/hospitality training.

The institute is paired with Courtyard Marriott, which operates the hotel, and Thr3e Wise Men brewery, which operates an onsite restaurant.

“We had a student who works at a local fast-food restaurant, and I talked to him about the program, and now, he is looking into learning skills to move up in the restaurant business,” Clifford said.

Individuals interested in Erskine Green Training Institute can go to its website, erskinegreeninstitute.org, to learn more about the program and job training offered, including video descriptions of the individual jobs in the three fields.

Completion of the program provides students with a certificate of completion from the institute and potentially certification in other fields of study, including a START certificate from the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute or a ServSAFE certification, both of which can open possibilities in their fields for individuals.

“I just want individuals that need special attention to realize that they do have options, that there are groups out there that can help,” Clifford said.

Author photo
Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.