Alex Haddad just received a new certification as a Highly Qualified Paraprofessional.
Hear her story and reflections from Dr. Rob Froelich and Mike Kelley on RSA’s long term training grants.
Speaker 1: VR Workforce Studio.
Speaker 2: VR Workforce Studio: inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the DV workforce studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 3: Listen to our amazing stories about the disability employment journey.
Speaker 4: Hear us describe our pathway through the challenge.
Speaker 5: And feel the joy and share in our inspiration as we overcome obstacles and go to work.
Speaker 2: We’ll also meet the champions of business and industry, who hire individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 6: I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 2: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now here’s the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore, along with the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Anne Hudlow.
Rick Sizemore: On today’s episode of the VR Workforce Studio we talk with Alex Haddad, a student with a disability from Wilson’s Workforce, about her new certification as a highly qualified paraprofessional as she embarks on a career in education and childcare. Alex discusses the vocational training that helped her obtain the skills gained she needed to enter the workforce.
Rick Sizemore: Also on today’s show the rehabilitation services administration is seeking input on the future direction of its training grants, to determine whether any changes are needed in designing programs for the future. We’ll reflect with Mike Kelley, dean of students at Wilson Workforce, and Doctor Rob Froelich from George Washington University, on Alex’s story. Get their take on the value of RSA’s long-term training grants and helping generate the rehabilitation counselors needed to support vocational rehabilitation. But we welcome Alex here with Sonia Costa and Summer Roach, staff from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Welcome to the podcast.
Alex Haddad: Thank you.
Rick Sizemore: Well let’s get down to business. What are some of the things that you did here that led up to taking this assessment for the highly qualified paraprofessional?
Alex Haddad: I worked down at Wilson Elementary for the entire school year.
Rick Sizemore: So how did that work, how did you actually get placed out at the elementary school?
Alex Haddad: They just placed me there, I guess. I did say that I wanted to work in a school.
Rick Sizemore: How did you figure out that you wanted to work with little kids in school?
Alex Haddad: My high school did a school-to-work where students, for a few weeks, they go out to a job site of their choice for just job experience. They’re not paid but I did the elementary school in my neighborhood twice and I really liked it.
Rick Sizemore: What do you like about working with little kids?
Alex Haddad: I don’t know, they’re just really interesting and funny.
Rick Sizemore: So you found your niche, that’s what you like to do and wanna do. Obviously you had several other skill gains, while you’re here. You got some other certifications and credentials, what are some of the things that you’re able to obtain while you were here at Wilson?
Alex Haddad: I got CPR and First Aid.
Rick Sizemore: Kind of important when you’re working with little kids, right?
Alex Haddad: Yes. I got career readiness.
Rick Sizemore: Let’s talk a little bit more. Paraprofessionals providing instructional support and programs by title one, part a funds, now have to meet this federally mandated standard to be qualified. That must make you feel pretty good about passing this test.
Alex Haddad: I was just like oh wait, I passed? Cause I thought the passing score was higher than it actually was. The passing score is a 455.
Rick Sizemore: What was your score?
Alex Haddad: 469.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome. That is fantastic, you’ve gotta just be excited about your future.
Alex Haddad: I am.
Rick Sizemore: Where do you wanna go to work?
Alex Haddad: I’m currently employed through Virginia Beach Public Schools as a substitute teacher’s assistant, so I go from different schools and work there for like, a day, and then another school the next day.
Rick Sizemore: What’s next for you?
Alex Haddad: Finding a permanent job or a full time job at a school.
Rick Sizemore: What is your disability?
Alex Haddad: ADHD and I was diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve been taking medication for ADHD for quite some time so that’s definitely helped. And then for anxiety I’ve just learned to get comfortable with where I am and just kind of memorize where things are and how to get to places.
Rick Sizemore: Let’s ask Summer, tell us a little about the classes and working with Alex to get her ready for this certification.
Summer Roach: So Alex started off with me in the childcare class which is a three week class that involves some classroom portions and some hands-on portions. We discuss active supervision, positive behavior support, everything from servsafe to CPR first aid. She completed the Virginia Pre service Training for Childcare Workers, which is a 10 hour required training under the department of Social Services.
Rick Sizemore: What kind of job does she do with kids, working with kids?
Summer Roach: She’s very patient. She’s got academic strengths, so she really knows what she’s doing with students. She reads very well to them.
Rick Sizemore: Let me ask Alex this question. Take us down to Wilson Elementary. Tell us what the average day is like in the classroom. If you had a favorite day or a favorite memory from your work with the kids at Wilson, a little story you could tell us.
Alex Haddad: I definitely liked field day they had on Tuesday, that was a lot of fun. They had the guidance counselor, the PE teachers, the specialists helping with their different stations, so they weren’t completely alone.
Rick Sizemore: So you could see yourself in a career in a setting like that, doing that kind of work?
Alex Haddad: Yes, working with kids, yes. I like hands-on things so definitely actually getting to work where I want to, at a school, definitely helps because I get to learn the school rules and the classroom rules.
Rick Sizemore: The hands on experience. Summer, in terms of the job market, what I’ve been reading online is that people who hold this highly qualified professional paraprofessional status are really in demand. What can you tell us about the education system and the people who are looking for highly qualified paraprofessionals?
Summer Roach: Right now paraprofessionals that are currently working in the schools are being asked to complete this exam. Alex, already having that behind her when she goes into a school, she is one step ahead of everyone else that is currently working but having to take this exam. Alex had an advantage where she was able to receive the academic support here but also had her ETO program, where she was able to prepare for those scenario based questions. Each section is 30 questions. 20 of those questions are academic, 10 are scenario based.
Rick Sizemore: That’s great because I think we’re back to that model again that WIOA requires in many instances for work based learning, some on campus educational activities and then some off campus exploration and trying out those skills. Alex, how do you think having this certification will change your life as you go into the workforce?
Alex Haddad: I probably wouldn’t get as many job requests if I didn’t have it, and I need to put paraprofessional on my application.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. If you look at the labor market information that’s out there, you’ll find that this certification is really going to give you a leg up. What are your thoughts leaving here, [inaudible 00:08:20], going into the job market?
Alex Haddad: It was definitely sometimes challenging. Working with the kids was challenging, and there was a lot of different maths, preparing for the parapro test was challenging. But it’s also a lot of fun too, cause I made a lot of new friends.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Alex, we wish you nothing but the greatest of success as a highly qualified and now certified paraprofessional going into the childcare and education field. Best of luck, thank you for being on our show today.
Alex Haddad: Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: And thank you Summer, and Sonia, for your great help and the work you do here at Wilson Workforce.
Rick Sizemore: While Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center is unique, the center is part of the Virginia Department of Education state operated programs, that is infused into the vocational rehabilitation training services we provide here on campus to support the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative services. The center’s career and workforce development programs are accredited by the counsel on occupational education.
Rick Sizemore: Anne Hudlow is on vacation but joins us next month for the big inspiration showcase when we talk with Rose Hildebrand, Vanessa Rastberger, and, of course, we welcome back Cherie Takemoto from the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. We take a look at how Dream It, Do It Academies and the career pathways for individuals with disabilities grants are opening up all kinds of opportunities for youth with disabilities to help them find careers in manufacturing.
Rick Sizemore: We’d like to thank some of our partners in podcasting, Deborah Root at the Global Impact Today radio network, which broadcasts our shows, as well as our friends at the Virginia Voice. You can find links to both at vrworkforcestudio.com as well as the Rehabilitation Service Administration’s National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Rick Sizemore: Speaking of RSA they currently have a request for information, seeking input on the future direction of their training grants. The long and short term training grant as well as the one dealing with innovative rehabilitation training they will use the information to make any changes that might be needed and designing and implementing their grant activities so they’re aligned with and support the VR programs across the country. We have a link to the RFI at vrworkforcestudio.com, but we’ve got a couple of guests we’d like to get involved in the conversation.
Rick Sizemore: Mike Kelley is the dean of students at Wilson Workforce, holds a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from George Washington University, and oversees campus life at Wilson including the rehabilitation counseling division. Mike has worked in vocational rehabilitation most of his adult life and has a disability himself. Mike joins us now with some reflections on the rehabilitation counseling that supported Alex, that we just heard from, in getting her highly qualified paraprofessional certification. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Kelley: Thanks, great to be here, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about your role as the dean of students at Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center.
Mike Kelley: Well as the dean of students at WWRC it is my role to oversee a student’s vocational experience on campus. Everything from their living arrangements in our dormitories to their afterhours activities in our recreation services and around campus, and their entire VR experience from start to finish.
Rick Sizemore: So this is pretty significant. How many students are we talking about?
Mike Kelley: We’re talking about anywhere between 320 to 340 at any given time.
Rick Sizemore: So like a small college
Mike Kelley: Very much like a small college, yes.
Rick Sizemore: So you have a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling?
Mike Kelley: I do. I have a masters degree from the George Washington University.
Rick Sizemore: And you’ve spent most of your life doing this kind of work.
Mike Kelley: I have, yeah, about 19 years in and around [crosstalk 00:12:52].
Rick Sizemore: You’ve helped a lot of people along the career pathway in 19 years, haven’t you?
Mike Kelley: It seems so. It’s been mutually beneficial, they’ve helped me a lot as well.
Rick Sizemore: That’s great. How are you evolving a staff of professional rehabilitation counselors that are needed to provide the guidance and support that’s necessary for an operation as significant as an on campus VR experience like we have here at Wilson Workforce?
Mike Kelley: Sure. Well we have a team of highly trained, dedicated, professionals that are rehabilitation counselors as with many agencies and many workforces around the nation we have a workforce that is approaching the age of retirement.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, the silver tsunami.
Mike Kelley: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: Which I’m in, by the way.
Mike Kelley: We have been fortunate to evolve a number of rehabilitation counselor trainee positions where individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and have an interest in pursuing a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling can come and work for the agency and provide voc rehab services to consumers under the supervision of a currently certified rehabilitation counselor, and while providing those services can pursue a further degree and a certified rehabilitation counselor credential while also working in the field.
Rick Sizemore: So this long term training grant, RSA is of course soliciting input on the future of all of their grant activities. What’s your take on the value of a long term training grant, to help folks like you just talked about?
Mike Kelley: It’s invaluable, it’s invaluable for a couple of reasons. I was a benefactor of the long term training grant from RSA. It enabled me to work in voc rehab while also pursuing my master’s degree, and it allows an employee to experience the practical application of what they’re learning in an academic setting every day when they come to work.
Rick Sizemore: You see it as a big plus to have the long term training grant, to help build the capacity of the center.
Mike Kelley: Absolutely. For the benefit to the employee is invaluable, the benefit to the agency is invaluable as well. It allows VR agencies to put into place some succession planning as our workforce ages, allows us to attract new, young, energetic professionals into the rehabilitation counseling in the VR profession.
Rick Sizemore: Mike Kelley is the dean of students at Wilson Workforce, thank you for being on the show today, Mike.
Mike Kelley: Thank you, my pleasure.
Rick Sizemore: We welcome back to our show Doctor Rob Froelich who is a project director, adjunct professor, with the George Washington University’s Center for Rehabilitation Counseling, Research, and Education. Rob works with the VR return on investment project, the WINTAC and targeted communities technical assistant centers, as well as the Virginia Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities. Rob Froelich, it’s great to have you back on the show.
Rob Froelich: I am happy to be here, and thanks for inviting me back.
Rick Sizemore: RSA, Rehabilitation Services Administration, has an RFI or request for information out to get input on the grants portfolio. We’d like to get your take on that, so I’ll begin by asking how have the RSA rehabilitation long term training programs had an impact on your career?
Rob Froelich: I’m glad you asked me that, Rick. I have multiple levels of interaction and relationships with the long term training programs. In fact my master’s degree in rehab counseling was partially funded through an RSA scholarship with the University at Scranton, and then my doctoral degree in counseling, with an emphasis on rehab leadership, was, again, partially funded by an RSA scholarship at the George Washington University. And I think that there’s a certain level of responsibility that goes with being an RSA scholar, beyond payback. It’s sort of a career thread in that it gums through lots of choices I’ve made. So these experiences really led me to pay it forward, consideration, and I have a very special place in my heart for all things state, federal, VR program related.
Rick Sizemore: So do we here, at the podcast.
Rob Froelich: Absolutely. And so many of the topics that you cover in these podcasts and so many of the topics you encounter in your day to day work at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center all do relate to one another, so it’s hard to separate things out. But for me, my involvement with the VR program and higher education and the intersection of those has endured throughout my career. So on the education side I’ve had the good fortune to be a project director for rehabilitation long term training projects on world rehabilitation, and a specialty program on psychiatric rehabilitation at the University of South Carolina. I was there for a number of years and then came back to the George Washington University, and I’ve had a number of interactions during those years with plenty of RSA scholars. That’s the education side. But the technical assistant and leadership training side, it has the ability to take the knowledge that I learned in those training programs that were funded through the RSA scholars program and collaborate with state and federal VR projects throughout the nation.
Rick Sizemore: One of those key areas that you’ve been helpful in addition to the many areas that you work is the career pathways for individuals with disabilities grant that is here in Virginia. I’d like to play a little clip for you, a couple of clips actually. The first one is from the head of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, Brett Vassey. Let’s take a listen.
Brett Vassey: We are absolutely dedicated to changing the education paradigm for young people, starting in sixth grade, that it’s no longer go to college or fail. That you have career paths, that you have choices, and when you’re an adult you’ve got clearer choices whether you’re disabled, you’re a veteran, you’re an unemployed worker, it doesn’t matter, but it’s not hopeless and helpless it’s an opportunity for a career k through grade. So that’s really what we’re looking for, that’s what we’re building. The state that builds it first, and best, is the state that will win in this global economy and friends, I’m gonna tell you, we’re gonna win.
Rick Sizemore: Rob, what is your reaction to the impact of CPID here in Virginia, particularly in the manufactory sector?
Rob Froelich: I think that the CPID project in Virginia has enabled people, and I’m going to talk about one particular group, and that is parents of students with disabilities. I think the CPID project has had a great impact on expanding the opportunities or the consideration of opportunities for family members with disabilities. And what I mean by that is frequently we encounter a paradigm of college is the only option forward to get a good, secure, high paying job, and we’re looking at the labor market and that is not the reality of this situation.
Rick Sizemore: It’s just not true anymore.
Rob Froelich: It’s really just not. Career counseling is an area that I have a passion for, and in career counseling frequently, in talking about sectors like manufacturing, people think back to a time when manufacturing looked very different than it does now. It is much more technologically focused and so through this project we’re able to have students try out different work settings to explore in depth even more so what are the functions of various different work settings and how do they align, or have they not aligned, with my skills, knowledge, and ability. So I think CPID project and this turn around relative to consideration of different options is really important for the commonwealth of Virginia.
Rick Sizemore: These long term training grants, of course, support development in so many different ways for the rehabilitation professionals who are all on the front lines, and what we concentrate on this podcast so often is we focus on the success stories or the result of all this great work that’s done in vocational rehabilitation. You mentioned introducing young people to the realities of manufacturing. I have another clip I wanna play. This is a young woman named Rose Hildebrand, right at the conclusion of one of the Dream It, Do It camps for CNC. Let’s take a listen.
Rose Hildebrand: Wow, my eyes have been opened, because I’ve learned to notice and take the little things in life and notice that every tiny thing, that anything you could think of, has been created using part of a machine that someone’s built. Even if you don’t believe that you can do it, give yourself a chance, because you never know. An opportunity is at your doorstep, people. You should be able to say you know what, I’m gonna give that a try. And then you never know, you’ll probably end up enjoying it and even if you don’t, it’s a good learning experience for you. And it’s just wonderful to think of the fact that this could help you get a better job in the future. It depends on you, though. If you think about engineers, engineers just make the blueprint. We’re the ones who actually do it. They are the dreamers, we are the doers.
Rick Sizemore: Rose Hildebrand coming out of this CNC academy seems to be really excited, and you mentioned how a lot of these activities that are supported by CPID introduce young people to the realities of manufacturing. What’s your take on listening to Rose’s comments?
Rob Froelich: I think that Rose is exactly the embodiment of the need for such a project. And we’ve lived, over the past number of years, with a period of great change. Everything around us seems to be changing at a different rate of speed and some of the truisms that, for time in memoriam, were that’s the way it is, are no longer true. So I think that getting someone like Rose into an unexpected setting that may not have been on her list is of great value and I’m very happy to hear of the success that she has secured relative to this different work setting.
Rick Sizemore: Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge fan of Paul Harvey and the rest of the story. The rest of the story with Rose is that following that CNC academy she completed a 17 week manufacturing program, now works at Masco Cabinetry in Culpeper and is well on her way to an established career. So these activities not only introduce young folks to the realities of manufacturing, they create those career pathways that actually do result in folks going to work.
Rick Sizemore: Rob, during your 20 years or so as a rehabilitation educator, what outcomes have you observed relative to the RSA long term grants and with the scholars who have been lucky enough to be involved in that?
Rob Froelich: Sure, absolutely. I have seen these long term training grants as incredibly impactful. The long term training grants have made quality graduate level training in rehabilitation counseling an option for many folks, myself included, who would just not have been otherwise able to participate in such degree programs. I see there’s a relationship, an intricate relationship, between the VR program and these training programs. The VR program is meant to provide services, as you know, leading towards increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, many of whom carry the distinction of being members of more than one traditionally underrepresented group, I see the long term training grants as an essential part of the VR puzzle. As you know, there’s a variety of special areas of knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required in order to be a successful rehabilitation counselor. Over my time in rehabilitation education I’ve seen literally hundreds of former RSA scholars go onto positions of leaderships within the State Federal VR program, within the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and the US Department of Education itself.
Rob Froelich: Things happen in life that are unplanned. It’s our reaction to those unplanned events that determines the outcome. Extraneous variables acted upon so many of the RSA scholars that I’ve known over the years and the availability of these training funds provided one mechanism for these folks to, in essence, turn some events in life that were lemon like into lemonade.
Rick Sizemore: Happens all the time. I’m a big fan of the Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd. They conclude their 40 year career this year and one of their songs says you’re gonna hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I’m not sure how that ties into academia but there has to be a connection.
Rob Froelich: It’s very viable and what that says to me is that as you’re looking around your environment and doing career planning, you’re looking for the pieces that you can maximize and the resources that are available to you and these long term training grants are a very viable and important and piece of allowing people to make different career decisions and have greater options that they wouldn’t have had without those funds.
Rick Sizemore: That’s exactly right. Doctor Rob Froelich you’ve been involved in so many aspects of the vocational rehabilitation program through academia in your role as a professor, as a consultant. We are so grateful to you for coming on the podcast today, sharing your perspectives. I hope all of those will be reviewed and captured and included in RSA’s collection of information that they consider as they plot the future for, really, their whole grant portfolio but particularly the long term training grant. We’ve always enjoyed you every time you’ve been on the podcast, and I hope you’ll inspire others to get involved with sharing that input with RSA. The link to the RFI or the request for information to submit information is at vrworkforcestudio.com. Certainly go there, click the link, it’ll give you more information on how you can get involved in providing information to RSA. Good folks out there trying to figure out best strategies that they can possibly find for delivering the highest quality programs we can in this nation and vocational rehabilitation.
Rick Sizemore: Doctor Froelich, thanks so much for calling in and we’ll see you soon.
Rob Froelich: Thanks for having me, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well that’s it for today’s show. Thank you for joining us, we’ve certainly enjoyed this time with you. Special thanks to all of our partners in podcasting for help with today’s show, CVS Health, the Jesse Ball duPont fund, Virginia Manufacturers Association, Dominion Energy, the Valley to Virginia Grant, and the Hershey company. We’ll see you next time as Anne Hudlow and Cherie Takemoto rejoin us for the big inspiration showcase. Til next time, I’m Rick Sizemore, with the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.