Despite the many challenges faced worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our students with disabilities have faced barriers and restrictions that have been almost insurmountable. However daunting these obstacles have been, when given the opportunity, many of the Co-op’s DC3C students have thrived. DC3C is the Co-op’s program that is committed to closing the employment and education gaps after high school for students with disabilities in DC, gaps that have widened during the pandemic. This Spring, we hosted our Career Preparation Program (CPP) virtually, ensuring that this often overlooked population of students was able to gain a paid work-based experience. This is incredibly important given the fact that students with disabilities who participate in paid work-based learning experiences during high school are more likely to obtain and maintain employment after school.
An amazing group of sixteen students with disabilities came together, representing all four quadrants of the city and hailing from traditional and charter schools. This diverse group of students was made up of mostly juniors and seniors, many of whom were undecided about their post-high school plans. Numerous students expressed their desire to “experience and learn something new.” After all the obstacles our students faced during the pandemic, our DC3C program took action and created a program to connect these students to work-based learning experiences based on industry-recognized certifications from the National Retail Foundation (NRF) and from LinkedIn Learning.
Our Retail class was able to record a 100% completion percentage on the RISE Up exam, which is the NRF Foundation training and credentialing program that provides foundational employability skills to help people land jobs and get promoted in retail and beyond. These exams are industry-recognized and were developed in collaboration with more than twenty local and national retailers. One student remarked that he was “finally prepared to prepare for a career in his dream field of retail management.”
Our Digital class was taught by our partners at the Hustler’s Guild. This immersive experience combined work-based learning, career exploration, and instruction in self-advocacy. The class included numerous special guest speakers, including a former Obama White House staffer who is an advocate for autism acceptance as well as a record executive from Roc Nation who “schooled” students on the realities of the entertainment industry. Utilizing LinkedIn Learning, students were able to achieve multiple certifications that will prepare them for the working world.
CPP culminated on June 7, with a mock job interview session. We were so grateful to have community participation in the form of twenty-eight volunteers! Our dedicated volunteers reflected the true diversity of our community, including CEOs of women-owned and minority-owned businesses, lawyers, teachers, postal workers, tech entrepreneurs, government workers, doctors, and retired members of the community. Some volunteers also self-disclosed that they have a disability, reflecting that they “wish they had this type of program when they grew up in DC.” Each volunteer was matched with students and meticulously reviewed their resumes as well as asked them mock interview questions. Volunteers remarked that “students were well-prepared,” “engaging,” and that the “overall experience was fulfilling from beginning to end.” Our students reported feeling “confident for any interview” and “inspired by meeting successful people who look like them and are from their neighborhood.” Because of these dedicated volunteers who so graciously shared their time, our CPP alumni are prepared to meet the challenges of the working world! Check this space for more updates on our amazing students. To get involved, please contact Mr. David Fridie at firstname.lastname@example.org! Ready to volunteer? Sign up today!