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Mentor Schools gets $200,000 grant to expand job training program for students with disabilities

Mentor Schools gets $200,000 grant to expand job training program for students with disabilities
Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 17:54:57-05

MENTOR, Ohio — Mentor Schools is receiving some help with getting its students prepared for life after graduation. The district just received a $200,000 grant for its job training program geared towards students with disabilities.

The program is called Cardinal Works. It's a job training coordinating program that teaches life and employability skills to adult students with disabilities between the ages of 19 and 21.

“We focus on communication skills in the workplace, self-regulating emotions, social skills, and also employability soft skills and hard skills,” said Cardinal Works intervention specialist Sarah Bidlack.

Students at Mentor High School are referred to the program after consulting with their parents, teachers, and administrators. The length of their time with the program depends on the student’s needs or until the student turns 21.

The program consists of several components, including classroom instruction and working in the program’s daily living skills lab where students can learn how to do tasks such as laundry, washing dishes, and making a shopping list. Students also do baking and cooking in the lab on Fridays.

Students also work at a series of job sites. Those include the school’s work-based learning spaces like their Cardinal Closet and Mentor Spirit Store, or one of the program’s community partners, including businesses in retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing.

“Within the community partnerships, we have built different pathways. So there's a retail pathway, a hospitality pathway, a healthcare pathway, and a manufacturing pathway. And within those pathways, they can freely focus on those hard skills, not only the soft skills but also the hard skills that they're going to need to have a job within that specific pathway,” said Bidlack.

Student Cameron Namie has been enrolled in the Cardinal Works program since 2020 and plans to graduate this June. He has worked on job sites including Meals on Wheels, Tri-Point, Unique Like Me, and Grace Church. He has big plans to put the skills that he’s learned to work.

“We've been tagging clothes back in the clothes closet, cleaning, cleaning like kitchen appliances and stuff like that,” said Namie. “I want to get a full-time job at Dick's Sporting Goods. I would like to stock sports equipment and all the clothing.”

Monday, Bidlack surprised Namie with the news that Cardinal Works has secured him an opportunity to shadow a Dick’s Sporting Goods employee next week. Namie is thrilled.

“I feel great about myself,” said Namie.

Bidlack said since 2011, more than 50% of the program’s graduates have been competitively employed in the community at places like Menards, McDonald's, and Walmart. They’re hoping to add to that number with help from a $200,000 Equity for Each: Advanced Approaches for Improving Equity in Career-Technical Education Programs Competitive Grant from the Ohio Department of Education.

“The grant money is going to help expand on a lot of the things that we already do up here. We're going to put a mock store within our classroom up here. We're going to be adding another tier of our classrooms for the 11th and 12th graders so those students are going to be able to actually start into the program at that age. So that's a huge benefit for all the students across the district,” said Bob Berwald, another Cardinal Works intervention specialist.

The grant money will also go towards expanding the Mentor Spirit Store and building more partnerships in the community.

Bidlack is proud of the progress her students have made and hopes that with the grant money they’ll be able to help even more in the future.

“It feels really good just to know that they left this program with the skills that they needed to be successful and to see that they were able to follow through with that and actually hold down a job and even through COVID, some of them being able to keep that job, I think speaks volumes. And it just makes me really proud of them. I'm proud of the hard work that they put in while they were here, that they were able to prepare themselves and that they're being successful,” said Bidlack.

Bidlack said work on the expansions and additions is expected to get underway this summer and be up and running by the start of next school year.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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