Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is the fourth largest school district in North Carolina and serves about 55,000 K-12 students in 43 elementary schools, 14 middle schools and 15 high schools. The Exceptional Children (EC) population totals about 7,500 students across the district. The majority of the high school students are served through Resource teachers and Inclusion classes within the regular school setting.
Aretha Jones-Moultrie is Transition Coordinator for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Exceptional Children’s Division and has many responsibilities. The certified Special Education teacher and former case manager says that expanding work and career opportunities for her students is one of the most important things she does.
“It’s my job to make sure that children with disabilities are ready to enter the workforce in job placement,” she explains, “by educating them and fostering their independence so they can become contributing, productive citizens.”
Despite the number of resources and programs available in her district, Jones-Moultrie says too often EC students don’t realize the number of work options they have. “It’s no longer only general jobs, custodial level, or labor positions for students with special needs,” she says. “Today, there are thousands of career opportunities for our EC students. We help them expand their horizons by matching them with their individual SPIN: strengths, preferences, interests and needs.”
Honing the Fit through FAST: Focus on Achievement for Successful Transition
Adopted last year after Jones-Moultrie was introduced to the platform, she quickly decided that the resources on VirtualJobShadow.com would be a good fit for the newly designated 9th grade EC students Focus Group, or FAST: Focus on Achievement for Successful Transition. FAST was put in place during 2016 as part of the Future Ready course of study.
She was most impressed by the program’s ease of use and quality, its adherence to Common Core standards, and integrated lesson plans for teachers.
The students were selected for FAST from five priority schools in the district based upon a minimum of three risk factors that determine their need for direct support. Designated categories are defined by the NC Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities and federally mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires a Transition Plan for all students.
“But don’t call them ‘At Risk,’” Jones-Moultrie says. “They are not at risk. They are ‘At Promise’ students. Once I learned of VirtualJobShadow.com, I took it to our EC administration and said I want this. It aligns with our Structured Studies Skills curriculum and we need it in order for our support services to be successful. Kids can explore different careers and learn they can do more than they thought, and still have a good quality of life.”
The Implementation and Immediate Response
Since the rollout last year, VirtualJobShadow.com is now utilized in five schools within the district. About 161 EC 9th grade students use the interactive tools and resources on the platform, each student ready to learn more about the world of work. Additional students will be enrolled as the implementation progresses as students enroll in a Career Technical Education (CTE) cohort. The cohort includes exposure to the 16 Career Clusters and further use of VirtualJobShadow.com.
To date, usage of VirtualJobShadow.com has exceeded her expectations, says Jones-Moultrie. “From March 1 to May 1, 2017, for example, with Spring Break during that period, we spent about 20 hours on 64 different career profiles.”
One EC student is exploring a Digital Forensic Analyst position. “He’s excited about it because he says he likes living in the virtual world,” says Jones-Moultrie, “and he wasn’t aware of all the technology in place to hunt down criminals today. If nothing else, it allowed us to generate conversations, do a reality check on what’s needed for each job, and open the door to independent living skills. That’s been rewarding to see. Furthermore, these students are already accessing technology. Why not have them learn how to make a living at it?”
Providing Relevance to EC Students
Most important, she adds, VirtualJobShadow.com provides relevance to her students. “They constantly hear ‘go out and get a good job,’” she says. “But how do they actually go about doing that? This platform shows them what educational level they need, what certifications are required, and what choices they can make.”
The district has a Career Center that encourages students to explore career options, but with VirtualJobShadow.com they can compare and contrast specific occupations, extend their reach beyond one particular certification, and ultimately reach long-term goals.
Providing Benefits to Educators
Jones-Moultrie says that from an educator’s point of view, one of the things she likes most about the VirtualJobShadow.com platform is the interest assessment component. VirtualJobShadow.com has three interactive career assessments that can be used to match students to careers that are the best fit for them, based upon their responses.
“Once our students are introduced to this part of the program, it helps us and them find their true area of interest,” she explains. “That means we don’t have to spend weeks on activities trying to figure it out. It allows us to quickly identify what they like and how to hone in on it.”
“The Future Ready course of study doesn’t have the flexibility in the schedule to provide our EC students the opportunity to explore job sites,” she says, “or provide job simulations with them, as done in following the Occupational course of study. But now we can provide it virtually with VirtualJobShadow.com.”
VirtualJobShadow.com provides career exploration resources for K-12, post-secondary institutions, and workforce development programs nationwide. To learn more, please visit VirtualJobShadow.com.