TULSA, Okla. – Fourteen Tulsa students are one step closer to job success, thanks to an innovative training program that introduces them to work and a paycheck while they’re still earning high school credits.
Casey Middleton, age 26, got his start as an apprentice in the Tulsa Bridges Project, a successful partnership for 15 years between the state Department of Rehabilitation Services and Tulsa Public Schools.
High school students in the program work 10 hours each week at the TPS’ transportation department in jobs that range from auto mechanic to office administration.
Their paychecks come from TPS with funds reimbursed by DRS through the Vocational Rehabilitation program.
High performers like Middleton may be hired permanently by TPS, which manages one of the largest fleet centers in the state with more than 300 buses and other vehicles.
“The work these students do for us frees up journeyman-level staff to get more vehicles back on the road,” Shop Lead Clay Taylor said.
Like other Transition programs developed by DRS, the Tulsa Bridges Project helps students eligible for special education services transition successfully from school to work situations.
TPS’ special education teachers recommend students who meet program requirements who interview at the transportation department.
“What makes Bridges different is that all on-the job training takes place in the community in real jobs,” DRS Bridges Coordinator Shirin Davis said. “Students become part of the workforce with responsibilities to an employer who sometimes hires them after graduation.”
That’s what happened to Casey Middleton on September 11, 2005.
“Casey fits right in with the focus on safety and efficiency and has excelled in keeping our buses on the road,” Taylor said.
It doesn’t hurt that Middleton won first in the nation at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s School Bus Technician Training and Skills Competition in Seattle, Washington in 2013.
As part of the competition, Middleton explained, judges disable the buses and challenge competitors to diagnose and repair them.
His trophies are at home on the coffee table, but Middleton is proud to share what he’s learned with newer members of the TPS team.
“Crosstraining is an advantage here rather than a threat,” Middleton said. “A lot of places if you teach someone else to do something, you just jeopardized your job.
“Here when you show someone else how to do something, that just makes your job easier, better,” he explained. “Now you’re not the only one who can work on it, and they can show someone else.”
When Bridges students become employees, Rosalyn Vann-Jackson, TPS Assistant Director of Public Transportation, believes they continue to share their values and work ethic.
“The Bridges program teaches students to be consistent – to always be at work, always be on time and that the more you work, the more you make,” Vann-Jackson said. “It’s a great opportunity for everybody and a program that creates taxpayers.”
To learn more about DRS employment programs for adults and high school students with disabilities, phone (800) 487-4042 toll free. You will be transferred to the nearest office. Information is also available online at www.okdrs.gov .