Tuesday, January 20, 2015

i3 grant to benifit special needs kids

Special needs students in Webster County Schools will soon be reaping the benefits of Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the US Department of Education. The $3 million grant was awarded to the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) last week.
Over the past two years Franklin-Simpson High School has made dramatic improvements in the levels of student academic success and College and Career Readiness, in particular making significant gains among students with disabilities and earning the school accolades statewide.
GRREC will seek to replicate that program in nine districts within it’s area.
“The focus will be on special needs kids as they try to make the transition from high school to work,” said Webster County Superintendant Dr. Rachel Yarbrough. “I will allow us to get a college and career coach for those kids, and it will allow us to utilize more partners for our special needs students.”
The $3 million, award over four years, will impact some 900 identified students with disabilities at Breckinridge County High School, Clinton County High School, Cumberland County High School, Edmonson County High School, Marion County High School, Muhlenberg County High School, Ohio County High School, Russellville Junior/Senior High School, and Webster County High School. 
“We’re excited,” said Kim Saalwaechter, Director of Special Education/Early Childhood for Webster County Schools. “We’ve needed and looked for something like this for years. It’s finally come our way.”
In addition, the project could develop systems and practices to improve student learning nationally.
“College and Career Readiness has been a focus for our districts for many years, but it has continued to be a challenge,” said George Wilson, GRREC Executive Director. “Just like the i3 program itself, we are constantly on the look-out for what’s working in schools. This project will give us an opportunity to take what we know is working in our region, build upon that, and in the process improve the educational outcomes for kids. That is what it’s all about.”
The premise of the project - entitled Get the Picture?! Guiding & Engaging Exceptional Teens – is based in the growing body of research on the development of self-determination within exceptional learners. In these rural, high-poverty communities, targeted students will receive frequent, one-on-one guidance and support; they will develop the skills to set and achieve individual, personalized goals focused on their post-high school aspirations.
Each student will meet one-on-one each week with a Career Strategist – a professionally trained special educator, counselor, principal, or district administrator. Together, they will work to develop students’ self-determination skills, which are proven to empower students as they make key decisions around specific learning and career goals.
Career Strategists will monitor each student’s Individual Career Plan (ICP), which is tailored to the student’s aspirations and aptitudes.  Courses will be aligned to the student’s ICP to increase engagement and students will have time each day to focus on their plans and goals. 
Adults and students will jointly address barriers as they arise, including late homework, extra support needed, and lagging grades that might limit career-building opportunities.  Schools will establish incentives for students to stay on track, meet benchmarks, complete certification, and raise a course grade.
According to Saalwaechter, Webster County’s part of the grant process involved raising $100,000 in in-kind donations from area businesses. Three of the biggest partners were Planter’s Bank, Alliance Coal and the Hugh Edward Sandefur Training Center.
The Sanderfur Center, is a Community Rehabilitation Program (CRPs) based in Henderson. The center works with those who have a diagnosed physical, mental or emotional disability that could prevent gainful employment.
GRREC’s proposal was one of 21 selected from 434 applications, representing 14 states and the District of Columbia.  i3 grants support the development and initial evaluation of promising practices and help to identify new solutions to pressing challenges.
The Green River Regional Educational Cooperative is a nonprofit educational service agency serving 42 districts and their 150,000 students, teachers and administrators. We design and implement needs-based solutions, including consortium projects that address the shared challenges of our small, rural districts.

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