Leticia Sanchez said her now-teenage son was in elementary school when she was approached by a teacher about the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, run by the Arizona Department of Economic Security in partnership with the local Arizona@Work office and offered throughout the Nogales Unified School District.
The VR program is funded by the Transition School to Work grant provided to the district and has been around for more than 20 years, according to Angelina Canto, NUSD’s superintendent of curriculum. The program serves students with disabilities and focuses on the following key areas: job exploration, work readiness, post-secondary education/training counseling, work-based learning and self-advocacy skills.
“Many VR services are available to high school students to help them transition from school to higher education, work and independent living,” Canto said. “After graduation, students receiving VR services are able to continue to receive VR services to support them during higher education or when seeking work."
Sanchez said her son’s involvement with the program began much earlier than high school. But it was during his time at Nogales High School that he began receiving help that was more personalized and tailored to his needs.
Her son, who has now graduated from NHS, has worked for the Nogales Little Mercado Farmer’s Market and the Nogales International as part of the program, and plans on becoming a dental hygienist.
“It’s for them to have knowledge about responsibilities and real life,” Sanchez said.
Among its other potential benefits, the VR program offers tuition assistance after high school for those who meet specific requirements.
“It’s the best kept secret in Nogales,” said Michael Inzunza, instructor at the Print Shop at Pierson High School.
The Print Shop is one of the various work options in the VR program and has proven popular among students, Inzunza said.
Having seen the benefits of the program for her son, Sanchez said she’d like to see other families benefit from the various resources available to the community.
“I wish more people knew about the programs that are out there,” she said.
NUSD Superintendent Fernando Parra said counselors at the district’s school sites work closely with parents and students to recommend outside programs depending on their needs and grade levels.
“Sometimes it comes directly through the district or my office as we connect the schools (counselors-teachers) with such programs for the schools to share, announce/post on website/Facebook or through parental/family mailing for student/family information if they are interested,” Parra wrote in an email.
Brett Bezio, a spokesman for the Department of Economic Security, said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their outreach efforts, but they’ve continued to publicize their services.
“At this time we continue to provide outreach with our partners through virtual platforms,” he said.
As for the VR program, he said that DES “continues to have strong relationships with the local high schools and behavioral health clinics (home health agencies) within Santa Cruz County.”