Ramona McCallister has been hired as the Crook County School Districts new Youth Transition Specialist

by: BILL MINTIENS - Ramona McCallister will be helping students with disabilities prepare for life after school.

Crook County High School (CCHS) has a new program designed to prepare students with disabilities for employment and future careers.

Ramona McCallister, former Central Oregonian reporter, has been hired as the Youth Transition Specialist. Working under Mona Boyd, Special Education Director, McCallister is working with students and potential employers to find the right fit between a student's career goals and an employer's needs.

"The purpose of the program is to help students make the transition from high school to the working world through partnerships between an employer, the school, Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services (OVRS), and the student," said McCallister.

The Youth Transition Program (YTP) is part of OVRS which operates under the state's Department of Human Services (DHS).

Funding for this new program comes from a "match grant" with two-thirds of the money coming from OVRS and 1/3 from the Crook County School District (CCSD). All of the funding supports McCallister's position. The CCSD's grant is for two years with extension options.

"The YTP is operated collaboratively with OVRS, the Oregon Department of Education, and the University of Oregon," added McCallister.

Although new to CCHS, the Jefferson County School District (JCSD) has operated a YTP for several years.

"The JCSD has had a very successful YTP for over six years now. Like us they have one Youth Transition Specialist. OVRS likes to pair-up experienced grantees with new ones so we've partnered with them on their grant. We each have our own budget and they're helping us get established," said Mona Boyd.

McCallister is enjoying the partnership with the JCSD.

"Diana Barrett is the Youth Transition Specialist at Madras High. I have worked with her several times and learned a lot from her already."

There are currently about 120 high schools in Oregon with YTP programs. According to DHS's web site, these programs have helped over 1,500 young people living with disabilities in communities throughout Oregon.

CCHS's grant puts a limit on the number of YTP students that can be helped. "Over the two years of the grant we can place 26 students, that's our limit," said McCallister.

Primarily designed for juniors and seniors in high school, students are between the ages of 16 and 20 and must be currently enrolled at CCHS.

Working closely with McCallister, each student will be thoroughly prepared for a potential work experience. McCallister draws upon her own experience while in high school.

"When I was a senior in high school I had the opportunity to be in a work experience program. I had the opportunity to work in the main office at the Ochoco National Forest, and it was a great learning experience and a boost to my resume."

The process of finding the right match between a student and potential employer begins with McCallister interviewing the student.

"I interview students to find out what their career goals are and then I try to find a match between their goals and an employer's needs. The goal is to find the best possible match between the student and the business."

Having taught at CCHS for 16 years McCallister has the experience, knowledge, and passion to help students figure out their interests and work toward a career goal.

"When I was a teacher here at CCHS I always felt passionate about kids that were struggling for any reason. I've always wanted to help kids get ready for careers."

McCallister knows that working with a student that already has a passion is a great starting point for a career down the road.

"One thing I think is important is that people are always going to excel at things that make them happy. The luckiest people are ones who get to have careers in fields that they're passionate about. I personally feel really lucky to be able to do something that I'm really passionate about."

Preparation and training begins once the student's interests and goals are established. This includes how to fill out applications, how to write a resume, preparing for an interview, and interviewing skills.

"Getting them prepared for the whole process is what we do for students," added McCallister.

A crucial step in the process is determining the needs of local employers and finding a match between YTP students and employers. McCallister has been meeting with many since the program began.

"I've been out in the community talking with employers about the program, and I have received very positive feedback from businesses."

The YTP program is a win-win for students, businesses, and the community in general.

"I think this program offers a great opportunity for local businesses to invest in our youth by providing them guidance in work experiences that will contribute to their future success," added McCallister.

The YTP is one of several "career readiness" programs at CCHS. The "Aspire" program provides free mentoring, resources, and encouragement to help students get on a path that's right for them after high school. And the "School to Work" program provides internship opportunities with area businesses. All three programs coordinate their efforts to help students plan for and achieve their career goals.

McCallister is proud to be part of this total effort.

"It's exciting to see how all the departments here at the high school work together to help kids be successful in their future careers."

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