People with disabilities often face significant barriers to finding employment, both in learning applicable job skills and employers’ awareness of their capabilities.

That’s where the High Road School of Mount Prospect’s Adult Preparation Program comes in, helping break down barriers for young adults with special needs.

The private, therapeutic school serves students from more than 38 public school districts across the collar counties. It emphasizes independence, choice-making, communication, money skills, integration into the workplace and independent living.

“Our school provides academic and therapeutic services for children, adolescents and young adults aged 3 to 21, and they have extraordinary needs,” said Chip

Mitchell, 21, of Lindenhurst organizes products as he works at the High Road School in Mount Prospect. The school serves students with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities, autism, and who need assistance with communication and independence. (Brian Hill | Daily Herald Staff Photographer)

Hickman, executive director. “We believe it’s critical to provide job training to people with disabilities and special needs. And what we hope to do is to prepare them for the workplace and also prepare our community and employers to be ready to support people with disabilities.”

The school has more than 60 employees and the capacity for up to 120 students, but it currently serves 75 who came through referrals from public school districts. That includes students with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities, students with autism, and students who need assistance with communication and independence.

“It’s a matter of creating that awareness in our community about the value and the enjoyment of providing people with disabilities a job opportunity,” Hickman said. “At the end of the day, we’re impacting their independence, their mental health and their quality of life. It’s rewarding on both ends.”

Learning job skills

High Road School itself employs people with disabilities and prepares students for all types of job settings. It has secured job placements for more than 27 students.

Students build skills through in-school practice jobs, replicating work they would do in the community, such as grocery stocking and bagging, housekeeping, certain factory jobs and supporting the elderly at senior centers.

“They’re able to practice it in the safety of the school and gain the confidence that they need to assimilate in the community… and that’s not easy to do,” said Jo Zillman, a job coach who has worked 19 years at the school.

“Then we take them to hone those same skills by attending our rotational community job sites. It takes some of the stress off of them.”

High Road Schools of Illinois serve nearly 700 students statewide, including at sites in Bloomington, Hoffman Estates and Naperville.
“Our program is at a level of quality we’ve never experienced before,” Hickman said. “Typically, we struggle with job placements. But because we reside in a progressive community here in Mount Prospect and the neighboring communities are forward-thinking, there are lots of opportunities for people with disabilities to become trained and to have a quality of life with supports.”