FLATE’s Alliance with Able Trust Offers a Win-Win Situation for Students with Disabilities

FLATE’s STEM-based outreach initiative to educate, inspire and captivate interest in STEM and
high-tech manufacturing encompasses middle and high school students as well as educators from all points in the social continuum. In the current and past year, in particular, FLATE reached out to students in rural communities, minority students who face economic challenges, women and girls who remain underrepresented in the STEM based professions and even homeschooled students. FLATE’s efforts to ensure every student is exposed to STEM-based opportunities, be it through traditional classroom learning, problem-based learning, or through experiential learning has yielded strategic partnerships that have positively impacted students as well as educators.

Most recently, FLATE has been working on a special partnership with the Able Trust. The Able Trust which is also known as the Florida Endowment Foundation for Vocational Rehabilitation, is a nonprofit organization established by the Florida Legislature in 1990. Its key mission is to provide and empower Floridians with disabilities, opportunities for successful employment and enter the workforce. (Source: Able Trust)

Able Trust’s program and grants are centered and focused on vocational rehabilitation programs. Its programs provide career development opportunities to students with disabilities, helping reduce dropout rate and preparing them for life beyond high school. Able Trust supports diverse projects that range from on-the-job coaching, employer outreach and any programs leading to employment. The Able Trust Youth Program, Youth Leadership Forum, and the High School High tech programs, for example, are focused on developing specific skillset that have impacted individuals with documented disabilities across Florida.

As part of its partnership with FLATE, students enrolled in the Able Trust High School High Tech
(HSHT) program, Able Trust administrators and coordinators have been on several industry tours arranged by FLATE. The HSHT initiative is designed to provide high school students with disabilities the opportunity to explore jobs, or postsecondary education leading to technology-related careers. Last month, as part of the Able Trust HSHT Conference, FLATE coordinated a tour and luncheon for 70 people that included Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, Able Trust Directors and HSHT Coordinators, to tour Southern Manufacturing Technologies—a high-tech manufacturer in Tampa. At the tour, Desh Bagley, outreach manager for FLATE gave a presentation about FLATE’s statewide STEM based programs and educational resources that the coordinators could access and incorporate as part of their HSHT teaching experience.

The presentation sparked tremendous interest, and inspired Able Trust HSHT coordinators to participate in national manufacturing day in Florida industry tours and establish connections with regional manufacturers associations across the state. Working with the Manufacturers Association of Central Florida, FLATE helped set-up tours for students enrolled in the Able Trust HSHT program in Central Florida to go on local industry tours as part of National Manufacturing Day in Florida. “These are the types of impactful alliances that FLATE likes to make across the state” said Desh Bagley, FLATE’s outreach manager.

In Orlando, a total of 120 students participated in industry tours to learn about high-tech and STEM-
based careers in manufacturing. According to Allison Chase, vice president of youth programs at the Able Trust Foundation in Tallahassee, one of the HSHT groups even participated in the FLATE Toothpick Factory, simulation game to develop soft skills, in preparation for their tour. “Students have been surprised to learn about the variety of jobs available in the manufacturing industry and many have expressed an interest in learning more about manufacturing as a future career” said Chase. Some of the sites they visited in Orlando were Custom Metal Designs, Correct Craft Maker and Mitsubishi Power Systems of America. In addition to the tours in Orlando, 15 students from the Able Trust HSHT program in Tallahassee also attended the manufacturing open house hosted by the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center at Tallahassee Community College. “Students have been surprised to learn about the variety of jobs available in the manufacturing industry and many have expressed an interest in learning more about manufacturing as a future career” Chase said.

Statistics for graduation among Able Trust students are higher than among other students with disabilities. The HSHT program at Bay Side High School in Brevard County was recognized for having all of their Seniors graduate, find employment or go on to post graduate studies. This fall as part of their effort to learn about high-tech industries and opportunities, and establish local industry contacts and chart a plan for future student tours Able Trust staff will be touring FABCO Air, Gerdau, Budweiser, and Vistacon. “Industry tours provide a real-world view of work and allow students to interact with business experts, ask questions, and gain inside knowledge into specific industries” said Chase. She hopes the tours will expand students’ knowledge about manufacturing, careers available to them in Florida, and spark their curiosity to explore skills and knowledge needed to get a high-tech, high-paying job.

For more information about the Able Trust contact Allison Chase, vice president for youth programs at the Able Trust at allison@abletrust.org, or visit www.abletrust.org. For information about FLATE’s manufacturing day in Florida initiative that is currently underway, Made in Florida industry tours during the academic year, or any of  our STEM based programs throughout Florida visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Executive Director of FLATE, Dr. Marilyn Barger via email at barger@fl-ate.org, or by phone at 813.259.6578.