Belmont Partners with MNPS to Provide Inclusive Job Training

MNPS students holding Belmont shirts in the Bruin Shop
Stories of Impact

Belmont Partners with MNPS to Provide Inclusive Job Training

May 23, 2024 | by Haley Charlton

MNPS Exceptional Education Worksite Program Finds Success on Campus

student workin in FitRecBelmont has formed a new community partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools' Exceptional Education Worksite program. The community-based transition program places post-high school students with disabilities, ages 18-22, in workplace settings around Nashville to help them develop critical job and social skills before they transition into the broader workforce. 

Jessica Adkins, a special education teacher who coordinates the program for MNPS, reached out to Belmont last year about forming a partnership after having success with a similar arrangement at another university. Belmont's FitRec, dining services and the Bruin Shop piloted the program at Belmont by hosting rotating groups of MNPS students for on-site job training. 

"One of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is social interaction," Adkins explained. “Many can do the tasks, but transferring that ability to the real world is challenging. Learning how to appropriately interact, carry conversations and navigate new environments - those are the invaluable soft skills they gain through this program." 

Adkins said the students loved the opportunity and universally found the Belmont community to be incredibly kind, welcoming and positive. "Everybody was so nice. It's such a positive environment," she said. "I had one student, Martha, who is super sociable and energetic. She would hype up everyone coming into the FitRec welcome desk. The people loved her energy." 

student working in the BruinShop

At FitRec, 4-5 MNPS students came for 1.5-hour shifts each week. They received job shadowing training similar to new student hires, doing duties like greeting patrons, cleaning equipment, laundry and restocking towels alongside staff. 

"Each student has different abilities," said Facility Operations Coordinator Peter Loomis, who helped coordinate FitRec's participation. "We tried to find duties that were a good fit for their varying skill levels." 

The partnership benefited both communities. For MNPS students, it provided rare workplace experience outside the classroom. Over time, they grew comfortable with Belmont's positive, welcoming environment. 

"You could see they remembered who our staff were and got excited to see them," Loomis said. "Our staff were also excited when those same students would come by." 

Exposure to diverse people and situations proved enriching for Belmont's student workers, too. "It helps them interact with students who they maybe haven't before," Loomis explained. "Those connections across communities are invaluable experiences." 

student working in dining hall

The program also aligns with Belmont's mission, according to Associate Vice President Leslie Lenser, chief human resources officer. "While these may never be Belmont students, they are students who could use our help in fully achieving their God-given talents, skills and abilities," she said. "By providing job experience, we are helping the individual students flourish and providing experience which will help them give back to their communities." 

Both Belmont and MNPS hope to continue the partnership in the fall. The inclusive program exemplifies Belmont's vision of equipping all people to engage and transform the world. 

Learn more about Belmont's Mission and Vision.