Larsen visits AHS Transitions, Build A Plane competition

North County Outlook: Larsen visits AHS Transitions, Build A Plane competition
By Christopher Andersson

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen toured a couple of local programs encouraging students to get into the workforce on June 29.

Larsen talked with Arlington School District officials about their efforts to provide work experience for those with disabilities and also visited Glasair Aviation, where the national winners of the Build A Plane Aviation Design Challenge were constructing an airplane for flight.

AHS Transitions

Arlington High School's program for young adults (age 18-21) with disabilities grew last year with more opportunities for work-related experience.

"I think this is the first year we've had a highly organized, very functional Transitions program here in Arlington. It's been piecemealed and really served only our higher functioning students," said Connie Reiss, director of special programs at the district.

This year Quil Ceda Community Services partnered with the district to open a thrift store where the students could gain work experience.

They performed basic duties like "shelving items, marking items," said Donna Peery, coordinator for the Transitions program.

In addition to the thrift store, they have worked with organizations like Bowman Manufacturing, Cascade Valley Hospital and a local veterinary clinic to get students volunteering or in work credit programs.

The goal of Transitions is to make sure young adults have something to do when they eventually leave the district.

"They're probably not going to be successful in college because academically and financially the funds aren't there for them," said Alicia Mose, Arlington High School job coach.

Transitions officials talked with Larsen about the movement away from sheltered workshops, for which the federal government has cut funding.

Sheltered workshops were supervised work centers where people with severe disabilities could earn less than minimum wage.

"That's what really hurt us, because there are no more sheltered workshops, so there's no place to take them," said Mose.

"It was said that it was too confining and not inclusive," said Arlington High School job coach Carrie Wilson.

"I don't know a single parent that has a child with severe disabilities or multiple disabilities that's happy about it," said Wilson, who herself has a son with autism.

Build A Plane Competition

Arlington plane manufacturing company Glasair Aviation hosts students from across the nation every year who have won the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) aviation design contest. Those students get to build a plane at the Arlington site.

"They start with just a kit on day one, and it's going to taxi and go through its FFA inspection in two weeks," said Mary Lynn Rynkiewicz, director of communications for GAMA.

This year's winners are from Weyauwega, Wisc.

"We've had students in the countryside from urban Las Vegas. It's open to students all across the country and we hope next year we'll have some more schools from Washington state applying," said Rynkiewicz.

About 76 entries came in this year from students who learned about aviation engineering and worked with computer software to build the best plane they could.

"All of the students in the competition get to learn about what it takes to build an airplane," said Rynkiewicz.

It was started by GAMA "as a way to interest young people more in general aviation. There's so many different career opportunities in general aviation whether it's a pilot, mechanic or engineer, so this a great way to introduce kids to general aviation manufacturing first hand," said Rynkiewicz.

Building planes has helped students build confidence and think about aviation, she said.

"Several of [the past winners] are now studying aviation in college, learning engineering. It's really changed the trajectory of what they were thinking about," she said.

Rynkiewicz wanted to thank Glasair Aviation for their support of the program as well.

"They've been really generous with us. Their staff dedicates two weeks of time for this, so we're very fortunate to have them as partners," she said.