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By Rebecca B. Evers, Ed.D.
Student organizations at the high school level, funded through federal legislation, are an established and integral part of vocational education. Ten Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and charged to provide programs of career and leadership development, including motivation and recognition for students enrolled in career and technical education programs. Each school-based program must have a dedicated instructor who coordinates curriculum-oriented activities to maximize student learning. Generally, participation in a student organization is voluntary and students elect to participate. However, in some instances, teachers may require participation in the student organization as part of class activities.
When your family and/or school are planning transition activities, you should encourage your teen with learning disabilities to participate in the career and technical student organizations (CTSOs). Student organizations can supplement skills learned in the classroom. These CTSOs offer opportunities for your teen to interact with peers and teachers in a less formal and more social atmosphere. Such interactions help him develop important employment skills such as self-confidence, decision making, and problem solving with peers. The clubs offer a less risky environment for trying new challenges and learning generic job-related skills.
During club activities, teachers have additional time and opportunities outside the classroom environment to teach, counsel, guide, and mentor your teen. Support and encouragement from the instructor and peer friends are the key components in building his self-confidence. Finally, CTSOs promote career exploration by allowing your teen to visit and shadow in local business and industry. These opportunities allow him to make more realistic and informed decisions about his career.6
Yet another extracurricular club option available to high school students is a job maintenance club that provides ongoing assistance for students who are working but need additional support in order to keep the job.7 If a high school has career and technical classes, there should be a job maintenance club. These clubs can be seminar-type experiences where students meet to problem-solve and discuss issues that arise during their job experiences (e.g., social skills, co-worker attitudes, accommodations, and employer expectations). Participating in such a club provides opportunities for students who require more support in order to meet workplace demands to work collaboratively with the occupational teacher. All career and technical programs, as well as the student organizations, are required by law to be available to students with disabilities or those who are at risk for school failure. The "at-risk" category is used by schools for students with a variety of risk factors, such as low socioeconomic status (SES), single parent status if combined with low SES, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, substance abuse of a significant family member, low-achieving students, students enrolled in the lowest level classes, and some English language learners. In some cases, schools will consider "at risk" students within an ethnic or racial minority group.
The educational and training options described below are mandated by law, meaning that states must offer educational options for persons ages 14 to 21 who are no longer in a school setting, regardless of whether the student graduated or dropped out. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA: Public Law 105-220) requires that state programs, including employment services, unemployment insurance, vocational rehabilitation, adult education, welfare-to-work, and postsecondary vocational education be coordinated under a one-stop system that provides information about all services at one physical site. (Additional information about services and locations of the Career One-Stop Centers, by state, is available on-line. See "Resources.")
Students with learning disabilities qualify for this program because all youth between the ages of 14 and 21 qualify who are experiencing one or more of the following six barriers to successful workforce entry:
Finally, if you have concerns about the potential downsides of your child not attending college preparatory classes in high school, please consider what Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said in a recent Wall Street Journal article.9 In explaining what he considered the benefits of a career-technical education, he commented on the difficulty most of us experience in trying to find a good plumber or electrician. He also noted that incomes for journeymen (beginning) crafts persons are routinely in the top half of U.S. incomes - and their incomes increase as their skills increase. In fact, their incomes can top six figures. (See Job Profiles and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Handbook, under "Resources," for more precise information on average incomes.) Also extremely important in today's global economy, a crafts person's job is far less likely to be outsourced, and job security and satisfaction are based on the individual's skill and ambition. Perhaps most important is the potential for job satisfaction. Crafts persons and others with career and technical training can find reward in seeing firsthand how valuable their final product is to their customers or the people who hire them. And they can take pride in competently performing work that they enjoy doing. Certainly, this is a goal that all parents hold for their kids.
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