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New BPCC program offers specialized job skills training for those with cognitive disabilities

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Students listen to lecture during a PSE course at BPCC. (Photo source: KTBS/Erin Buchanan) Students listen to lecture during a PSE course at BPCC. (Photo source: KTBS/Erin Buchanan)

A newly launched program at Bossier Parish Community College in Bossier City is opening doors – and horizons – for a very special group of students.

Described as the "first of its kind", the Program for Successful Employment - or PSE - is designed specifically for people with cognitive disabilities and autism.

These are adults who might otherwise miss out on the opportunity to attend college, and find a job, because access to the appropriate training is often unavailable to them for a variety of reasons.

"What I want you to do is take the ball in this hand [and make a movement like you're bowling]. See, I gave him the same information through movement, as I gave you through words," explains at PSE professor as he demonstrates for his class through a hands-on method of teaching.

"[I was told] it would help me get a career, not just a job but a career. So I was like, okay, I'll do it."

For 20-year-old Benton High School student, Brandi Joplin, enrolling in the PSE, which kicked off in January 2014, meant countless doors could now open once she leaves high school behind.

"I want something that I can do for the rest of my life, not just at different times."

Certainly not an unusual desire, but often difficult for those with certain cognitive disabilities to achieve, compromising hopes of a career and reasonable quality of life as an adult.

"I've been a special ed teacher quite some time."

That's where Program Director Rebecca Hanberry steps in.

She says BPCC is piloting the program with Bossier Parish Schools, and is a joint endeavor with Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, which approves students to enroll in the PSE.

"There's a barrier, a social skill barrier, for them to be successful on the work site, and we're seeing it over and over again, especially with the increase in autism population," Hanberry says.

Four years in the making, PSE courses are designed to get someone ready for the workforce, but unlike other similar programs, this one isn't age-limited, meaning it's open to anyone 18 and up.

"Career specific training in a particular field, and that's what PSE will offer."

The first year will focus on soft-killed training, like how to write a resume and go on a job interview.

Then, once a student's interest is identified, hands-on training at a particular job site will make up the second year.

"We not only started a program that was continuing their education on campus, but we started really hitting vocational skills hard," explains Hanberry.

"What we found is that this population of students had a great prospect for independent employment," says Zac Burson, Transition and Mentoring Coordinator for Bossier Parish Schools.

Students like 19-year-old Johnathan Bryant, who's enrolled in the PSE, and would someday like to work in welding or landscaping.

"Zac [Burson] talked to me about the program and I thought it would be real interesting to try it out," Bryant says.

Burson sees first-hand the need for a program like the PSE, noting that the first question employers usually ask is if an applicant has a high school diploma or G.E.D., and many times, these students were unable to meet that criteria.

"There are supports out there but they're never adequate enough to live a full and active life."

But instruction doesn't stop with students; an integral part of the program's success lies also in the training for prospective employers.

That includes instruction for employers on how to adapt and adjust to a variety of unexpected behaviors that those with autism or other cognitive disabilities may exhibit throughout the day.

To ensure long-term success, a job developer and a job coach will follow students for one year after job placement.

"These are fabulous employees. They are not going to play on their cell phone, they don't want a day off, they're not going to be into all the typical gossip drama. They don't cause problems, they're loyal employees," says Hanberry.

Bryant's dream? To be an entrepreneur. "Hopefully, if I'm successful, I can start my own company."

PSE is partly funded with federal dollars, and partly with a local monetary match through BPCC.

Ten students are currently enrolled in the program, but Hanberry says they hope to soon add an additional course to meet the high demand for services.

For more information about the PSE, call (318) 678-6192.


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