NEWARK – School system officials last week recognized a local educator for his many efforts providing special education students with work experience.
The Worcester County Board of Education honored Matthew Elburn last Tuesday for being named “Outstanding Advocate of the Year” by The Arc Maryland, an agency that works on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“He’s such a visionary,” said Rae Record, supervisor of special education for Worcester County Public Schools. “He’s a gamechanger.”
Elburn, who’s worked for the local school system for 17 years, received the award from The Arc for his advocacy and endeavors to help individuals with disabilities lead inclusive lives. In Worcester County, Elburn, whose official title is transition coordinator, leads a variety of programs aimed at providing work experience to students with special needs. Thanks to Elburn’s efforts, those students, who typically stay in school until they turn 21, are now able to spend school hours working in local businesses, attending Wor-Wic Community College or taking classes at Worcester Technical High School.
Elburn said it didn’t make sense for the students to simply stay in their home high school when there were opportunities to expand their work experience and life skills. The Wor-Wic program in particular, which was started a few years ago, has really bloomed lately, according to Elburn. It gives special needs students the chance to attend community college twice a week, taking classes in culinary arts, Microsoft Office and building maintenance, among other subjects.
“They’ll see students they’ve gone to (high) school with at Wor-Wic,” Elburn said. “It’s neat to see them high-five each other.”
Elburn is also connecting students with Way2Work Maryland, a project meant to improve the success of students with disabilities through work-based learning experiences. The program, which is offered in just four counties in Maryland, pairs participants with jobs and internships matching their skills and interests and at the same time helps them plan for their future.
“Work experience is the main predictor of success for employment after school,” Elburn said.
He’s excited to launch yet another program to provide valuable work experience this summer. Through Project SEARCH, local students will be able to attend a program at Atlantic General Hospital that will provide them with instruction and job shadowing experiences throughout the hospital.
“We try to train in different types of jobs,” Elburn said. “We’re really excited. We’ll be the first on the Lower Shore of Maryland to have this program. It’s a big collaboration.”
Elburn said what makes his job so enjoyable is watching students learn new skills and succeed in the workplace.
“I like going to the different job sites and talking to students and seeing how much they like their jobs,” he said. “They want to work.”