DESE-LogoJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A new program implemented in the state of Missouri is helping students in middle and high schools.

The Pre-Employment Transition Services, or PETS program offers students with disabilities the opportunity to access work-related services they might not be eligible for through Vocational Rehabilitation.

“They allow for some of those federal funds to be spent with students while still in secondary school,” said Robert Simpson, PETS Project Director. “(It’s) just providing some intervention earlier for students with disabilities.”

Simpson said the project was made possible by changes made to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. The PETS program is working directly with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to place trained individuals in schools.

More than 20 specialists have been trained for the PETS program, Simpson said, and are already in action.

“They are going into schools and working with the schools based on their needs,” Simpson explained. “Just trying to help those students with disabilities to have better outcomes after graduation.”

Simpson said when selecting the individuals to take part in the PETS program, the most important factor was accessibility for the students. Most of the PETS specialists are certified in the field of teaching.

“We actually looked for folks, either newly certified teachers, or perhaps teachers recently retired who still wanted to be active,” Simpson said. “Many of those folks are special ed, or have a background in working with students with disabilities. So we wanted folks that were primarily certified teachers to come in and administer the program.”

The new PETS program is in action with the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. The program focuses on five key areas of assistance for students: job exploration, work-based learning, counseling for post-secondary education, workplace readiness, and self-advocacy and peer mentoring.

According to Simpson, the outcome statistics for students with disabilities after secondary education are not acceptable. With the introduction of PETS, he hopes those numbers can turn around in Missouri.

“We want to make sure that folks who can be out there working and just having productive outcomes, are afforded that opportunity,” Simpson stated. “We want to do everything we can to try and make sure we can do that. Schools are extremely busy, and they’re doing a great job, but they need help.

“Our vocational counselors in the state are under the same kind of restraints, you know, doing a great job, but they have their hands full. So we’re just one more support resource to provide those services, and to connect kids with services from other agencies.”