A New STEP Up

Tyler is a senior at Hickman High School, but he is no average Columbia student. Rather than sitting through American history or English literature, Tyler is receiving hands-on job training as an intern at Boone Hospital Center.

Tyler is among the first eight students enrolled in the Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnership (STEP), a new program designed to improve employment outcomes for youth with developmental disabilities through a partnership between Columbia Public Schools, ACT, Vocational Rehabilitation, Boone Hospital Center and Boone County Family Resources. While many young adults with developmental disabilities successfully complete high school and find work, STEP alternatively gives young people real-world experience with the added benefit of an instructor who guides participants through vocational training that satisfies the students’ high school credit and prepares them for future employment.

“Our goal is to increase employment outcomes for all people with disabilities in our community,” says Mark Satterwhite, Director of BCFR’s Life & Work Connections. “In future years we hope to gain relationships with the great employers in Columbia.”

Students selected for the STEP program must meet a long list of criteria, including being a student with Columbia public schools, a client of BCFR and needing vocational development. They must also provide letters of recommendation. Finally, students must be appointed to the program by a selection committee comprised of representatives from each of the member agencies.

For now, Boone Hospital Center is hosting students in the STEP program Monday through Friday during the school year. Students began the year with vocational training from certified teachers from Columbia public schools and ACT in a classroom at the hospital.

Recently, students like Tyler transitioned from the classroom to job posts throughout the hospital. The students are doing a variety of tasks including working in food service, cleaning and maintaining medical equipment sorting and delivering laundry.

Dressed in light blue scrubs, with a BHC I.D. badge pinned on the left side of his shirt, Tyler begins work by carefully washing his hands. If it weren’t for him being introduced as a STEP student, passersby could easily confuse Tyler for a hospital employee emptying garbage.

Jim, a Senior Environmental Services Technician at the hospital, monitors Tyler’s activities, but finds few reasons to intervene. Although it’s only his first week, Tyler works in a certain rhythm as if he has been employed with the hospital for years. First, Tyler pushes an enormous tub on wheels from the main floor to the sixth floor of the hospital. Next, he works is way back down, carefully inspecting each utility room for trash which is dumped into the large tub. Maneuvering the gigantic tub through hallways and around obstacles is one of the most difficult tasks Tyler must complete.

STEP facilitators will make sure Tyler’s hard work pays by helping him secure a permanent job at the hospital or another local business by the end of the school year. In addition, STEP students learn priceless lessons that can make them successful employees no matter where they work. These include being to work on time, working with a team, how to communicate with co-workers and bosses, goal setting, and time management. The hope is these skills and other will translate to long-lasting and reliable jobs for students completing the program.