The Transition Services Program at AERO Cooperative exists to assist students enrolled in both AERO and member district programs to provide pre-vocational and vocational training for students with disabilities aged 14 through 21. A continuum of pre-vocational and vocational support services are available for students based on their individual needs and skill levels. The Transition Services Program Office is located at 87th and Austin. Personnel housed at the office include; Transition Coordinator, DRS Transition Specialist, three job coaches, and a grant manager. In collaboration with AERO supervisors, district special education administrators and high school pre-vocational counselors, students are identified and matched to jobs according to their needs including individual ability levels, school schedules, transportation needs and future job interests.
At this time, the vocational and transitional services offered by AERO are supported by two grants including the DRS (Division of Rehabilitation Services) STEP (Secondary Transitional Experience Program) grant and the CCW (Cook County Works) grant. Services provided by the Transition Services Office are designed to fit the requirements of each grant as well as the individual needs of students.
There are approximately 175 students currently receiving services from the transition office through either competitive or supported employment. Competitive employment services include processing of students referred by the high school pre-vocational coordinators, student interviews and interest inventories, job referrals, assistance with filling out applications and completion of the interviewing process and follow up with potential employers after the student has completed the interview process. Examples of businesses that employ students through the transition office include Panera Bread, McDonalds, Walgreen’s, Jewel Foods, Hometown Park District, Evergreen Aqua, Fox’s Pizza, The Dollar Store, Chuck’s Barbeque, The Elk’s Club, CVS, Target, UPS, Kmart and Fasano’s Pizza.
At this time, AERO job coaches also offer pre-vocational training at Pride High School for students not participating in the pre-vocational program at their home schools. The pre-vocational curriculum focuses on employment discussion groups, specific career exploration, subsidized and unsubsidized work experiences, training in work competencies, the importance of positive work attitudes and habits, problem solving and decision making. The classes also cover the importance of establishing a good work history including references from teachers and employers, clean background checks and drug testing.
In addition to competitive employment in the greater community, job training is also available. Job training services include transportation services and on site job coaching. These services are provided by one or more of AERO’s six full time job coaches. All AERO job coaches hold an Illinois School Bus Drivers license and are available to transport students in AERO owned suburban vans. Students are transported from their homes and school to their work sites based on their class schedule and availability. Once the students have been safely transported to their work sites, they receive on site job training which may include anything from social skills training to assistance in developing work habits and problem solving abilities. Students typically are scheduled to work approximately two hours per day at each site and are issued class credits through their high school. Currently, the following job sites provide job training for AERO students: the Midway Hotel Complex, Christ Hospital, and St. Xavier University. These locations have on site full time job coaches assigned to work with students on skills that will promote long term employment.
At the Midway Hotel Complex, two job coaches supervise eleven AERO students at five different hotels. These students work side by side with hotel employees and their AERO job coaches in a variety of departments including laundry, housekeeping, food service and maintenance. During their individual work shifts, students receive the support and job training needed to learn positive work skills and increase their chances of future employment. Seven students have been hired after graduation at the Midway Hotel Complex. Hotel management has attributed the success of the program to the on site job coaches that have created a successful partnership with the staff at the hotels.
Another job site where students participate in job training to develop successful job skills is Christ Hospital. Currently, thirteen students are employed at Christ Hospital. While on site, these students are also being directly supervised by department supervisors and a full time AERO job coach. Students placed at Christ Hospital have worked in a variety of departments including the cafeteria, food and nutrition, environmental services, outpatient testing, guest services, the general store and the gift shop. Five students have been hired by Christ Hospital after graduating from high school. Department supervisors responsible for hiring have stated that they are appreciative of the positive outcome of their partnership with AERO and the students placed there. Hospital department supervisors are currently seeking more AERO students to work at Christ in the early morning when the hospital is at its busiest.
Additional training sites include Bennigan’s Restaurant in Chicago Ridge and The Patio Restaurant in Bridgeview. These sites also offer on site job coaching in restaurants including food preparation in the kitchen and cleaning in the seating areas. Students develop job skills and are considered for future employment. The Patio has also hired three students who have been through the AERO job training.
Finally, students needing to access assistance with independent living, community integration and participation at can be accessed through the Transition Services Program Office. Parents and students often have limited information when it comes to accessing community based services. As the student transitions from high school to postsecondary education or community based employment, the transition services department can provides linkages for parents and students in accessing services such as supplemental income, medical coverage, independent and sheltered living arrangements, summer programming and respite services.
The success of these programs are a result of the effort that AERO Transition Services staff members and district prevocational coordinators have put forth to provide for the articulation of services that best meets the needs of students and families from the four member high schools.