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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- The School District will join a program meant to help high school students with disabilities obtain and keep a job.

Project Search Autism Enhancement will be a four-way partnership between the district, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, Embassy Suites of Northwest Arkansas and Friendship Community Care.

The program operates in five other places across the nation. This will be the first time it's been done in the South, according to Paula Webber, the district's director of special education.

The School Board heard a presentation on the program at its meeting Monday. The board then unanimously approved entering the program and hiring a full-time teacher for it. The program will begin in January.

The estimated annual cost of that employee is nearly $72,000. The district expects to be reimbursed that amount through a $55,000 grant from Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; the rest would come from Medicaid, said Dena Ross, the district's chief operating officer.

The program's employment training package "addresses the need for high-quality training so that our young adults with autism and/or qualifying disabilities can gain meaningful employment," Webber said.

The program's curriculum builds social and communication skills, job skills and self-advocacy. It provides training in organizational and problem-solving skills and works to prevent and manage challenging behaviors, according to Webber.

Embassy Suites in Rogers has agreed to serve as the host business. The hotel will provide meeting space for the class and host multiple internships within its different departments.

Friendship Community Care, based in Russellville, provides services for people with disabilities across Arkansas. Among other things, the organization will assist students with finding jobs once they complete the program and provide additional services to ensure they can succeed in their positions.

The district already works with Friendship Community Care on other similar programs to help students with disabilities transition into the workforce. At least 50 students are participating in those programs, Webber said.

One internship program has six Bentonville High School students working at Mercy Hospital in Rogers.

Mercy approached Friendship Community Care and the district about a partnership because they're looking for employees, said Katie Baker, director of day programs and enrichment for Friendship Community Care.

"Their hope is to actually be training individuals they're going to hire at the end of the program," Baker said. "They're truly using it to train their future workforce."

Travis Riggs, board president, praised the work being done to coordinate these kinds of programs.

"I think it's fabulous we're giving these parents hope about how their kids are going to be able to survive and live," Riggs said.

In other news from Monday's meeting, the board voted to narrow down the names it's considering for the 12th elementary school from a couple of dozen to four.

Board members ranked their favorites. The top selection turned out to be Evening Star Elementary School. Three other names tied for second place: Mike Mumma, Haxton Hollow and Hattie Caraway.

The board is expected to make its final selection at its next meeting on Oct. 22. The 12th elementary school is being built on Haxton Road in Rogers. It will open in August 2019.

NW News on 10/02/2018

Print Headline: Bentonville School District to join job training program

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