“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more,” – Robert M. Hensel.
Thanks to a program at Carroll County High School, students with disabilities are proving those words true. The Community Based Instruction (CBI) program at Carroll County High School is a program where students with disabilities can learn real job skills in real world settings. For several former students of the school, the program has led to actual paying jobs.
“It has been wonderful. They are so upbeat and happy just to be working. It doesn’t matter what they come into or what they have going on that day, they are just happy to be there and happy to help people,” said Jennifer Marshall, Manager of the Hampton Inn in Hillsville, which has hired four students to jobs at the local business in which they earn real wages. “It has been a really good experience and they are really good kids. I think more people should give them a chance because they would be surprised at how hard they work and how well they do. I would take 100 of those kids because they are just so positive and they are just really good workers.”
The CBI program at CCHS started approximately 10 years ago with Elizabeth Motley and Kevin DeHaven mostly cleaning churches and offices with students. Myra Leonard helped to expand the program into businesses willing to let students come in and learn real job skills in real world settings.
Since that time, Marion Harris and Sharon Hayden have expanded the program to currently include 12 businesses in the community. The businesses save work for students in the program to do. The following businesses are active participants in the program – Southwest Farm Supply, Carroll Wellness Center, Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Food Lion, Dollar General, Commonwealth Assisted Living, Southwest Virginia Farmer’s Market, Hampton Inn, Family Medical Care (Dr. McPherson), and Rooftop Childcare.
“We want to thank them and encourage other businesses to see if there is anything we can do,” said Carroll County special education teacher Rusty Hull. “Some kids aren’t successful in academics. These kids have found success in going out and working for these employers. They have found a niche they can fill in a real-world situation and be successful. And they are also filling a need in the community and the community is responding by allowing us to come in and do some jobs for them.”
Hull said there are 21 kids currently enrolled in the CBI class at Carroll County High School – 19 of them with intellectual disabilities. Some of the students have significant cognitive disabilities, while others just need daily routines in order to function. Hull said the program has opened entirely new worlds for CBI students.
“Other students are going to go to college or a trade school or immediately entering the workforce. For these kids, those opportunities aren’t there for them, but this is a program that is addressing that need. And it is really not found anywhere else around us, not to our degree,” Hull said. “And we are able to do it without the monetary resources that other school systems have. We are able to do it with basically for the cost of diesel fuel really because they are already paying the bus driver to transport. And our bus garage has been very supportive, administration has been very supportive, the community has been very supportive.”
Students do not get paid as part of the program, however graduates of the program like Brett Petty are now earning paychecks with his job at Hampton Inn.
“Through the CBI program, Hampton Inn got to take a look at him and see what he could do,” Hull said. “So when he turned 22, Jennifer hired him and she has hired four over there, drawing a paycheck, real money. This program has opened the door for that. “
Kevin DeHaven, also a Special Ed instructor at CCHS, has found employers are often “scared” to utilize the program. There is a common misconception the employer will have to be responsible for students with disabilities.
“Employers are afraid they are going to have be the person to watch our students, but that is not true. We have teachers that are professional adults with everyone except the older ones we can wean into it,” DeHaven said. “They are afraid it is going to be an extra responsibility and liability to them. Liability is the biggest issue, but what a lot of employers don’t understand, if they hired a student here they can pay the student, but in turn there are all kinds of incentives and tax breaks to get their money back.”
Hull said Marshall at Hampton Inn has found the CBI students to be good workers. They don’t call in sick and they are happy to be there, something not always found in today’s workforce.
“That’s the sad part. Some of our students are 10 times better workers than some of these other kids,” DeHaven said. “They may not be able to go through an interview or dress the part or verbalize everything, but when it comes down to just straight out work, once you have a routine and once they are confident in what they are doing, they take off.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on AWorrellTCN