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RISD Transition Fair shows opportunity to students with disabilities

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An event Thursday evening at Roswell High School aimed to show a specific demographic of students what opportunities they have beyond high school.

It didn’t look much different than other college and career fairs, but the Transition Fair in the RHS Commons Area was targeted to middle school and high school students with disabilities, said Shelly Bruns, director of special services for Roswell Independent School District.

“It is for them to be able to connect with any outside agencies that we have here in town that might be able to provide services,” Bruns said.

Several of those outside agencies that RISD special services partners with were present, such as Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell’s Special Services Program, Roswell Job Corps, New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and New Mexico Workforce Connection.

The fair also included employment information from the city of Roswell and some local employers.

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A transition to the workforce or training programs is included in students’ individual education programs, or IEPs, but Bruns said the pandemic restrictions prevented students from carrying out that part of their plans.

“We’ve had such a hard year with kids being out with COVID and missing so many things. Part of a student’s IEP is their transition activities, and a lot of that is to community agencies or for independent living, or transition for employment or for college and career,” she said.

“We thought we will end on a positive note at the end of the year to try to get kids a little engaged and be thinking about some of those things over the summer,” she said.

Bruns said RISD serves 2,182 students in special education at all levels, including 577 in middle school and 529 in high school this year.

Enrollment Specialist Alexis Florez represented Roswell Job Corps, a trade school that offers training and housing to more than 200 students each year. She said students who have a disability or an IEP automatically qualify for the program free of charge.

“We’re trying to help students that don’t want to go into the college field, but something more like a trade,” she said. The programs offered match many jobs in Roswell and southeast New Mexico, she said.

Students can finish a GED through Job Corps if needed in addition to learning a trade and get paid for work they do while learning.

“They get placed in a job where they are certified, and they can as well go into advanced training,” she said.

Those interested in a college program could stop and talk to Rebecca Cobos, director of special services at ENMU-R. That program offers occupational training but also independence through its housing program on campus, she said.

ENMU-R’s program is only one of two like it in the country, Cobos said.

“What really stands out from a program like ours is the residential piece,” she said.

Students live in apartment-like dorms on the ENMU-R campus.

“Probably 60% of what a student will learn is how to be independent,” she said.

“They do have a roommate so they get to learn a lot of peer aspects of getting along with others and communicating, learning how to share some of those chores they have to do to keep up their apartment. They just learn those life skills,” she said.

Many of the students in the program are living away from home for the first time, so parents also get some support in that transition, she said.

The three-semester program offers certificates of training in the fields of animal healthcare, child care, building maintenance, food service, office skills and stocking and merchandising. Students have both classroom lessons and internships in the community.

The pandemic brought enrollment numbers down to about 20, Cobos said, but 40 students are already registered for next year. The program attracts not just students from Roswell but from out of state as well, she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.