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The Adult Education and DARS Connection: Where to Start?

by Rebecca Scott

The Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is a great partner to have if, like all twenty-two adult education regional programs in Virginia, you operate under performance-based funding that follows metrics for workforce participation. Does the phrase “employment and wages 2nd and 4th quarter after exit” sound familiar?

From the perspective of an adult education (AE) program manager, all of us likely connect with DARS at our workforce development board meetings since AE and DARS are both mandatory members. Regional Adult & Career Education of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Norton Public Schools (RACE 1) started real partnership conversations with our regional and local DARS staff in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. We mainly wanted to learn how our teachers could find the right agency person to refer an adult learner for DARS services. For example, we wanted help for a student who was unable to manipulate a computer mouse after a stroke or help another student learn more about assistive technology for their current job.

This initiative has been a partnership built with small steps. We added DARS agency contact information to our RACE 1 website in 2022 to help make connections for referrals and we had a two-hour partnership meeting in 2023 with RACE 1, Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education, and DARS staff to share our core services.

This winter, with the new Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) Adults With Disabilities (AWD) focus area, we held another in-person networking discussion with two local DARS staff and the RACE 1 leadership team in our office. During this four-hour exchange, we gained a deeper understanding of both DARS and RACE 1 offerings, and set specific goals to collaborate in sharing our core services. For example, we are currently printing an informational flyer for young parents that DARS will distribute to their participants. In addition, the regional DARS unit has been given permission from their Richmond-level administrators to join our TEAMWORK network.

DARS and RACE 1 Teamwork flyer - page 1 - with logos and slogan 'Working together in your hometown, Lee County, Scott County, Wise County, & NortonDARS and RACE 1 Teamwork flyer - page 2 - giving the phone numbers, webpages, and list of services for each

This step shares DARS and RACE 1 key services across both digital and print media in addition to streamlining the referral processes for both organizations. For examples of our TEAMWORK network, see myrace1.org/partners.

Going forward, we are working with DARS staff to review our intake processes to be more disability-sensitive and planning for DARS-led professional development for our instructors on The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) topics. DARS staff have also offered to come to our classes to present their services as a component of our various employability classes that connect our learners with employment.

Looking back, when we started we wanted quick answers for specific, individual student questions. What we realize now—and central to our current focus—is the importance of incorporating DARS wisdom into our intake practices, our professional development offerings, and—especially—into our workforce readiness classes for Department of Social Services (DSS) agencies, our IET cohorts, and reentry classes.

Photo of Rebecca ScottRebecca Scott is the Program Manager of the Regional Adult & Career Education Program of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Norton Public Schools (RACE 1) which is based in Gate City, Virginia. In addition to being the recipient of the President’s Award from the Virginia Association for Adult and Continuing Education (VAACE) in 2023, she is a supporter of lifelong learning and collaborative efforts to improve the local economy and the future of southwest Virginia.