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‘A very big deal’: Richmond Hill High School leads citywide initiative to help youths with disabilities transition into careers

Richmond Hill
Alithia Moore, the Institute for Career Development’s Navigator at Richmond Hill High School, talks with students who are participating in the new ICD initiative. (Photo by Mirka Tejada)

The Institute for Career Development (ICD) launched the initial phase of a planned citywide initiative to help youths with disabilities transition from school to career. The initial phase consists of a pilot program in partnership with Discovery High School in the Bronx and Richmond Hill High School in Queens.

ICD has an on-site “navigator” at Richmond Hill who will work alongside students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan to walk them through the college application process or prepare them for vocational training.

“Richmond Hill High School is pleased to help launch this new initiative,” said Neil Ganesh, principal of Richmond Hill High School. “It offers long-term, holistic support to our students through their high school years and beyond that, we believe will lead to greater self-determination, better economic mobility and improved overall well-being.”

The navigators will be available to students at no cost and help students build the skills they need to launch fulfilling careers.

Richmond Hill is six weeks into the initiative and its partnership with ICD is off to a strong start.

The school began to seek out alternatives to aid disabled youth eight years ago, wanting to ensure that students with IEPs would have viable post-secondary plans upon graduating, according to Richmond Hill’s Assistant Principal Robert Schwarz.

“The resources that ICD is bringing to the school are immense,” Schwarz told QNS. “To have all these opportunities for our disabled students inside our building is a very big deal.”

According to school data provided to QNS, in 2022, 54 students with IEPs graduated from Richmond Hill. Ninety-one percent of them graduated on time; 33 attended two- or four-year colleges; two joined the military; two started working with ACCESS-VR; 11 attended trade school; and six started working, according to Elyse Cosma, Richmond Hill’s transition coordinator.

“We have always tried to set up our students so they have a plan upon graduation,” Cosma said. “A major reason for this partnership is that while our students with disabilities leave with a plan, they struggle with following their plan through due to a lack of that personal guidance. ICD is meant to provide that personal connection that will follow up with them after they leave Richmond Hill High.”

Students have welcomed Alithia Moore, Richmond Hill’s navigator, into the school with open arms.

“Our students have already bonded with Mrs. Moore and they are constantly seeking her for appointments, advice and internship opportunities,” Cosma said.

Through the initiative, students with disabilities will also have the opportunity to take on internships with ICD and its partners. 

Richmond Hill High School currently has a total of 284 students with an IED or 504 plan. This amounts to 17% of the student body.

“This new initiative will help students with disabilities to better understand how to advocate for themselves and successfully navigate their way through the complex systems of services and support available to them after they leave school,” said Joseph T. McDonald, ICD president of development and communications. “It offers enormous potential to build the self-confidence, resilience and agency that they will need to overcome the biases and barriers to employment that they will face as adults.”

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