Iowa’s Department for the Blind is getting one million dollars to set up mentoring programs for people age sixteen to 26. The agency’s director, Allen Harris, says Iowa’s the only state to get such a grant, because its programs have a national reputation.He says they’ve worked with counterparts in other states to find more opportunities for transition-age youngsters, those he says “age out of school.” Harris says blind kids tend to drop out more often than other students, and their graduation rate is much lower than average for schools around the state. The trend continues after that, as they tend to go on to college at much lower rates in 2-year, four-year and even graduate programs. Harris says that makes it tougher to get jobs, and to get ones that pay well. So the program’s looking at reaching blind youngsters early, with successful blind adult role models. He says it’s to heighten their expectations — work to show them what successful work is like, living with economic independence, and encourage the kids when they face barriers. Harris says it’s a way to give a boost to current programs that don’t include followup for individuals as they grow older. Harris says they’ll do extensive background reviews on potential mentors and their participation will “not be a drive-by visit,” or occasional phone call but mentors working intensively with their young companions. The five-year, one-million-dollar grant comes from the federal education department’s Office of Special Education Rehabilitation Services.
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