Grand County's students with special needs and their families are familiar with the on-going services provided by the Northwest Board of Cooperative Educational Services (known as BOCES).
The agency provides services to both the East and West Grand School Districts.
Started in 1967, and one of 19 BOCES statewide, Northwest BOCES provides services to the school districts in East Grand, Hayden, North Park, South Routt, Steamboat Springs, West Grand and Moffat County.
Given today's difficult economies and exacerbated by on-going education funding issues in Grand County and statewide, the concept of shared educational resources is working by maximizing the economic impact of available funding.
One such successful shared resource is the School To Work Alliance Program (SWAP). This is a collaborative effort, the purpose of which is to help young people with mild-to-moderate physical and cognitive disabilities transition from school to work.
Longtime educator and Winter Park resident Jennifer Stuart was recently named Grand County's SWAP Specialist.
According to BOCES's SWAP Program Coordinator for Grand, Jackson and Routt County schools, Tom Scilacci, "Jenn's passion for assisting youth, her extensive experience as an educator as well as her active commitment to the community make her the perfect fit."
SWAP is an interagency collaboration between both school districts, the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Colorado Department of Education.
It provides assistance that not only seeks to produce a desirable employment outcome, job-it also provides the applicant with other appropriate skills they can take with them throughout their careers.
According to Stuart, "the program has been in place since 1995, involving in excess of 75 percent of Colorado's school districts. Since its inception, some 14,000 eligible candidates have participated, resulting in 4,300 achieving successful employment outcomes."
Stuart went on to explain that the purpose of the program is "to provide successful employment outcomes, increased community linkages and new patterns of service for youth within all categories of disabilities."
SWAP clients are eligible for services typically provided through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. These include: evaluation and diagnostic services; vocational counseling and guidance; physical and mental restoration services; and training.
Additionally, the SWAP program may provide other ancillary services. These include: career exploration; career development; employment-related instruction; job development and placement; case management; and one years' follow-up.
Successful SWAP outcomes include placing eligible candidates in positions that relate to both the candidate's area of interest and aptitude. Successful placements include providing support services during the initial phase of employment, to both candidate and employer alike. These include the whole gamut - from interviewing skills, completing and submitting an application, writing a resume to job coaching.
"While we're obviously committed to our clients," Stuart said, "we are equally committed to the employers. We take great pride in our open communication with everyone - employers, employees and our personnel, as well."
On the "employer-side," SWAP offers a plethora of services.
SWAP promotes the efforts of local businesses and employers seeking to expand both their labor pool and customer base, Stuart said. This is accomplished by providing on-site, follow-up support to those SWAP employers.
"We work diligently to prepare youth for that all-important transition into work," she said. "We seek to accomplish this through the teaching of both job-seeking and job-keeping skills."
In support of their objectives, they have also developed a successful internship program for students with mild-to-moderate physical and cognitive disabilities seeking to successfully transition from school-to-work.
By developing appropriate internship programs, the potential job seeker can see, first-hand, if this is what he or she wants to do. In turn, SWAP personnel works closely with the employer by assisting company personnel to interface effectively with the interns. Once the candidate is "placed," they then carefully monitor and support the new employee's job performance.
Hopefully they are hired, and it becomes a win-win situation for everyone-job-seekers and employers, alike.