Work. Ability. Most of us take both for granted. However, “work” and “ability” at Coronado High School are combined and celebrated as the namesake of a program which provides pre-employment training, job placement and ongoing career resources for high school students with mild to severe learning disabilities.
According to program coordinator, Katie Quinly, the WorkAbility program at CHS primarily serves students with disabilities whose educational trajectory may not include college, or for those who aren’t able to achieve a high school diploma due to more severe impairment.
“Historically, students with disabilities have had a low rate of employment. We are working to overcome that,” says Quinly. “Any high school student with an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is eligible to participate in WorkAbility, but we strive to prioritize those with the greatest need. Each year we have around 100 students ranging in age from 16 to 22 years old in the program.”
The WorkAbility initiative (WAI) was established by the California State Department of Education in the 1980s with a mission to: promote the involvement of key stakeholders including students, families, educators, employers and other agencies in planning and implementing an array of services that will culminate in successful student transition to competitive, integrated employment (CIE), lifelong learning and quality of life.
According to the California Department of Education website, more than 10,000 employers participate in the WorkAbility program across 55 counties statewide.
The WorkAbility program was introduced to Coronado almost a decade ago by former CHS employee Eva Murray who secured funding, forged community partnerships and developed a guidebook for the program that is still in use today.
Special Education Teacher and Program Coordinator Katie Quinly has headed the program for the past two years and has been a special education teacher within Coronado for eight. Quinly works alongside Dorian Edge, a CHS grad and 19-year special education teacher whose title is an all-encompassing “WorkAbility Coach.” Together, the duo manages the entire program from grant management, partnerships with employers, work experience placement, and ongoing education to students and families. Both voiced appreciation for the support of Coronado and it’s neighboring city employers:
“We have between 30-50 local businesses who employ WorkAbility students each year,” says Quinly, “We are lucky to be able to offer a wide range of opportunities for participants. Our students gain work experience in restaurants, car washes, bowling alleys, retail stores, office jobs, and pretty much every workplace that exists.”
Boneys, Nicky Rottens, Rite Aid and the US Navy are among a few of the local employers in Coronado. CEO of Nicky Rottens and proud Rotarian Bryn Butolph says WorkAbility employees are a real asset to the business:
“We created five positions for the CHS WorkAbility program. Every weekday between 9-11am students come to the restaurant to help open. It’s really important to us as a local business to employ staff and interns that are reflective of the diverse and wonderful Coronado community.”
The CHS program offers a range of employment and internship models including subsidized work experience positions, but the ultimate goal is to provide pathways towards paid, ongoing employment. Quinly and Edge maintain the stellar reputation of the program by keeping expectations high for participants:
“Academics remain the highest priority for participation in WorkAbility,” says Quinly. “Participants must maintain an above average GPA and an excellent attendance and discipline record. They not only represent CHS but the wider WorkAbility program. This program isn’t just about getting credits or gaining experience. It is intended to really help create pathways towards employment and careers.”
Katie and Dorian are enthusiastic and positive about the success of the program, but reason they can always use more workplace opportunities for students:
“We would love the participation of more businesses and employers,” says Edge. “Hopefully if more people in the community know about the WorkAbility program, we will be able to provide even more opportunities to our students.”
For more information about the WorkAbility program at CHS, visit: https://coronadousd.net/departments/student-services/special-education/workability/