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Gaining Skills for Life After High School

Preparing for life after high school is a challenge for any teenager, especially for teenagers with learning disabilities. The Start on Success program at Loyola Marymount University teaches high school students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities how to get and keep a job.

Start on Success is a national work-preparatory model that provides opportunities in various industries for students. In 2008, LMU’s School of Education collaborated with Westchester High School to create the Start on Success program, which graduated its first group in June.

“We place [the students] in jobs on campus, based on where their interests are,” said Joseph Harbouk, associate dean for Business Operations in the School of Education, who oversees Start on Success at LMU. Harbouk said Start on Success gives student participants three things: hands-on work experience, interviewing skills, and practical life skills.

The LMU program began with the support of the Los Angeles-based Sherry Lansing Foundation, a foundation that is committed to improving public education, and the office of former Los Angeles Unified School District board member Marlene Canter.

Students from Westchester High interview for the program, and work part time in several departments at LMU like Information Technology Services and Events Management. The “manager” for each student is an LMU staff member who supervises the student’s work. The high school students are also supported by a LAUSD special education teacher who regularly comes to LMU to advise them and to teach them skills that foster independence, like balancing a checkbook.

Eight students graduated from the program in June. Harbouk hopes to have 14 students in the program starting January 2010.