The Geauga County Educational Service Center and its Vocational Consortium play a major role in the lives of students with learning disabilities who are seeking to train for jobs. Mandi Baggett has been with the center for 12 years and is the career assessment specialist for the vocational consortium.
“It is such a great program,” Mrs. Baggett said. “It’s important for everyone to be part of the community, and research shows having a job is part of your identity. And it is hard for many with disabilities to work without support.”
As a public entity such as a school, the main funding source for the program is from the school districts and grants with some from the state.
The programming, which is growing, works with students on career assessment, work study, job training and placement. The services offered to local school districts are available to use for their students, Mrs. Baggett said. They use whatever programs the district requests for individual students.
“They usually start at about 16 years old or later. All students can stay until they are 22 if there is a need to extend their school services,” Mrs. Baggett said.
“I talk with students, interview them and learn about their skills and if currently in a work program or do jobs around the school I watch them,” Mrs. Baggett said. “I do have agreements with businesses and I watch the students work at a business to assess their work skills, and it is a hands-on assessment. We do inventories on their interests and get input from their parents and teachers about their employability skills. I then make programming recommendations and I also recommend skills to work on to their schools,” Ms. Baggett said.
“We serve the districts in Geauga County but also serve any district that needs help, including Chagrin Falls,” she said. There are about 100 students currently in the programs. The educational service center offices are located in the city of Chardon.
Courses in the job training program are at Kenston, West Geauga, Newbury and Chagrin Falls in the west, and Cardinal, Berkshire and Chardon in the east. “We also help Riverside School District in Painesville and Gaitway School in Bainbridge.
“All the students we serve are those with learning disabilities, from physical, cognitive and visual impairment to autism.” They have a wide range of support needs, from minimal to one-on-one assistance, she said.
“We also have a transition services coordinator,” Mrs. Baggett said of Sarah Drewlo. When students have paid employment after the school day, she checks in on them monthly, assisting them with any needs.
The student receives school credit for a job if they are in her program titled Work Study. Ms. Drewlo works on internship opportunities, seeking out businesses that would like student interns.
In the job training program students work at a variety of businesses including the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the Geauga County Library System including Bainbridge and Middlefield, Mustard Seed, Old Navy, Heinen’s grocery stores in Bainbridge and Chardon, Bed Bath and Beyond in Solon, Parkside Church in Bainbridge, University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, Great Lakes Outdoor Supplies and assisted living facilities such as the Lantern of Chagrin Valley in South Russell.
“The focus of our consortium is helping the students reach the goal of attaining competitive, integrated employment,” Mrs. Baggett said.
“The students work as volunteers at the businesses. The employers are allowed to pay them if they like, but the majority are unpaid,” she said. The school districts transport them to the businesses and work and there is always a job coach or teacher who goes to every work site.
“We contract with the Renhill Group. Job coaches are hired through the company,” she said.
“The main purpose of job training is for soft skills, including problem solving, hygiene and customer services, and asking for help, and expected work behavior, are a few examples,” Mrs. Baggett said. They also learn skills specific to the business such as customer service and about food preparation and stocking.
The goal for the students is to be ready to obtain paid employment when they complete their training at school. “We also do activities such as writing a resume, practicing interview skills and practicing filling out job applications to help them find a job when they are ready,” Mrs. Baggett said.
“We help get them signed up with the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities,” she said, adding that not all students are eligible. They also sign up with “Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.” The Geauga County board provides lifelong services.
“I see the students enjoy going to work and accomplishing things,” she said.
Some of the students don’t know a lot about working when they first start in the program. “And to see them successful and working is very exciting and rewarding,” Mrs. Baggett said.
“We are always looking to connect to the community and new businesses to partner with for our internships and job training programs as well as participants for our career fair in April,” Mrs. Baggett said. For more information, contact Vocational Director Jaina Gandolfi at Jaina.Gandolfi@geaugaesc.org.