Lakewood and high school team up for students with disabilities

Program shows students what the city has to offer


Lakewood High School’s Jennifer Moriarty has spent the past 15 years preparing the next generation of people with disabilities for life after high school. She helped start the school’s Unified Program, designed for students with special education needs to partner with a coach or fellow student to work on a common project.

Moriarty teaches the employability skills class where she helps students with disabilities develop qualities needed to get a job — and before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Moriarty and the city of Lakewood were working together to help her students transition to life after high school.

The city of Lakewood and Lakewood High School partnered up at the beginning of this year to give students in the school’s employability skills class a chance to see the programs, services and opportunities available through the city.

Although the program has been suspended due to COVID-19, Lakewood High School students in all grades in Moriarty’s class have gotten to see, try and learn about programs offered in Lakewood. “The idea of transition is key to having them reach a successful end of high school. If they can learn how to access recreation centers and the community resources in high school, then after high school they will be more likely to use those resources,” said Moriarty. “I’ve never seen a city rise to the occasion this way.”

When the program was up and running, students had the chance to tour Lakewood’s cultural and civic centers, meet a Lakewood Police officer, and try indoor rock climbing, fitness classes and swimming pools at Lakewood recreation centers. Students were scheduled to explore other parts of the city, including Bear Creek Lake Park before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moriarty said her students have rode the Lakewood Rides bus as part of the program — a service for seniors and people with disabilities in Lakewood. It provides transportation for grocery shopping, Volunteers of America dining sites, medical appointments and other needs for residents.

Students in the program have had the opportunity to learn about jobs they can apply for after high school in Lakewood, including custodial and customer service employment.

“I wish every single community did this. Our kids don’t typically access the resources they need that they can benefit from after high school,” said Moriarty. “Lakewood is kind of in the forefront of welcoming people of all abilities to participate and be an active student in the community.”

Shelby Nellis, a Lakewood therapeutic recreation programmer, said students showed excitement toward learning about new resources they can access. She added that Lakewood employees were excited about having students at city facilities and were welcoming about teaching them how to best access resources and answer questions that might arise.

“It is great to show the community that anyone can access our resources within recreation and the city as a whole. If this helps inform a teacher on what resources exist or even a patron seeing individuals with disabilities accessing equipment or programing, they could pass that information along to someone they know that has a disability,” she said.

March is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Lakewood is hopeful that the program will continue once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“I feel like this program is so important because it allows students that may not have previously had great exposure to our community resources to be welcomed in. We aren’t just telling them that these resources are available and waiting to see if they access them,” said Missy Granish, a therapeutic recreation programmer for the city.

“We are actually walking into the spaces and activities with them and showing them what their options are, introducing them to the staff and explaining the steps they can take to access it on their own or with their family,” she said.


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