Warren County Schools launches workplace program

Warren County Public Schools is partnering with Lord Fairfax Community College on a new program that would offer job training and peer support to students with disabilities.

The program, according to Michael Hirsch, director of special services at Warren County Public Schools, is aimed in part at preparing students with disabilities who are between 18 and 21 years old for employment.

“We’re using the college as a laboratory to prepare (students with disabilities) for competitive employment in the future,” Hirsch said.

As part of this program, students at Lord Fairfax Community College formed a new club this spring, called the Elements Club.

Kim Blosser, the vice president of academic and student affairs at Lord Fairfax, said members of the Elements Club would teach some lessons to the students enrolled in the program. That, she said, would benefit both the Warren County Schools students, who would get to spend time with people their age, and students at Lord Fairfax.

“It certainly is a good life skill for all of our students to interact with students with disabilities,” Blosser said.

Between five and ten students will be enrolled in the first year of the program, which launches this fall. Participants will all be alumni of Warren County Schools who have “low-incidence disabilities,” or students who require a significant amount of support from the school system.

Hirsch then hopes to slightly expand the program in the future.

“It can’t get much bigger,” Hirsch said. But, he added, “We’re hoping to expand to met the needs of our population of students with disabilities.”

Plans for the Elements program date back to 2007, Hirsch said, when he, John Feehan and Colleen Snyder — all of whom worked at special services for Warren County Public Schools at the time — tried to set up a similar program with Lord Fairfax Community College.

But the recession halted plans, Hirsch said, due to staff changes at Lord Fairfax.

Hirsch said he “resurrected” the program around two years ago.

“This one’s coming into fruition in August and quite exciting,” Hirsch said.

Warren County Public Schools have hired a new teacher for the program. The Warren County School Board approved the hiring of a jobs coach on Wednesday.

The school has worked with Lord Fairfax Community College to place students into “workplace readiness” programs at the college. According to Blosser, students might work at the Subway on campus, as well as the fitness center, with assistance from teachers in Warren County Schools.

In the next month, Hirsch hopes to set up more partnerships and arrange for meals and transportation for the students in the program.

Hirsch advertised the plan as one among a group of opportunities for students with disabilities at Warren County Schools that offer help preparing for employment following graduation.

“It’s another example of how we’re creating an opportunity for students with disabilities,” Hirsch said.

Students with disabilities who are between the ages of 18 and 21 are eligible to apply for the program, although Hirsch expects that the accepted applicants will be near the end of that age range. The program runs in two-year cycles.

Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or mlee@nvdaily.com