But in recent years, it has been harder to get the word to parents in time to take advantage.
For 17 years, Easter Seals East Georgia, the Richmond County school system and the Georgia Department of Labor have put students through JOBS 2000, a vocational training program for physically and mentally disabled high school seniors.
After graduation requirements tightened in 2008, it affected the types of students eligible to participate and made it harder for teachers to identify students to recommend for the program. The changes caused a gradual drop in enrollment in the program and gave Georgia Seals East Georgia President Sheila Thomas a new sense of urgency.
“This is a really critical juncture,” Thomas said. “A lot of people don’t even understand we have this program. … That would be a travesty for this to just go away for whatever reason.”
In a meeting of the three partner groups Friday, school officials said it will take extra outreach to get principals and teachers to identify which students should be recommended for the JOBS.
The five-day-a-week, yearlong program helps students finish course credits, get job training, learn work habits and earn a paycheck for work performed.
Students have to be fifth-year seniors who have met all requirements except math and English or are working toward passing the Georgia High School Graduation Test. They can’t have more than three unexcused absences or a recent disciplinary record.
JOBS can accommodate 13 students at a time but has none signed up for the 2012-13 year. About 250 students have gone through the program since its inception, but enrollment has gradually declined, with nine in the 2010-11 year and seven in 2011-12.
Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett said it’s important to keep students in the program because of the specialized services it provides.
“We’re missing out on identifying kids that need help,” Padgett said.
“I’d urge everybody to put the rubber to the road and do it. We can change them in the right way if we put them in whatever programs are available.”
Certified vocational rehabilitation counselor Tara Lark said JOBS has helped recent graduates develop skills for jobs at grocery stores, warehouses, laundromats and in retail.
It’s a resource she said the community can’t lose.