Anthony Coleman of Pine Bluff has succeeded in finishing Jump Start, a three-week career development program for high school students who are blind or severely visually impaired. He was among 21 students from across the state who were accepted into the program, which ran from June 9 – June 28 this summer.
Students learned skills to prepare them for life after high school. The DHS Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) placed students in part-time jobs in the mornings and had educational and recreational activities in the afternoons and evenings. This is the only program of its kind in Arkansas.
Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has partnered with DSB to put on the program, sharing resources and opening up dorms. Participants stay on the ASBVI campus during the week and return home on the weekends.
To the degree possible, DSB placed students in jobs in their fields of interest, so they could gain insight into their chosen professions. Of course, some students didn’t have specific career goals at this point in their lives and were given other employment according to their experience, skills and abilities. Students may participate in Jump Start in successive years.
Coleman worked at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Instructional Resource Center, which distributes Braille and large print books to public schools, last year. His employer was well pleased with his work and requested he be placed there again this year.
In addition to job skills, Jump Start students learned independent living skills that many people without visual impairments take for granted, such as meal planning, cooking, clothing care, and money management. Students also toured the State Capitol and received hands-on training using accessible voting machines. One of Coleman’s favorite activities during Jump Start was having a fine dining experience at Savoy 1620 restaurant after a class in business and dining etiquette.
Learning how to live independently also means learning how to get around. Students received orientation and mobility training that teaches them how to travel using a white cane. They learned how to use city buses.
Working part-time and interacting with other students who are blind or visually impaired is an important part of the program because it increases the student’s confidence, social skills and self-esteem. Some students who attend public schools and come from small communities have never interacted with other teenagers who are blind or visually impaired. Social skills and interactions with others are a crucial part of life, so recreational activities are built into the program.
Students saw a play at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse, visited the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and enjoyed a cookout at a park. Students toured Heifer International Headquarters, a non-profit which provides livestock to impoverished families and teaches them sustainable agricultural practices, and
the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, which focuses on Arkansas’s African-American history and culture. At the end of the program, they had a graduation event.