“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher growing up. I remember watching my fourth grade teacher writing across the chalkboard and being in awe of her. I thought to myself, ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up.’ The moment I said it out loud, the wheels were set in motion. I was surrounded by teachers, parents, friends, etc. who encouraged me and pushed me to fulfill my dream.”
I had the social capital to make my dream become a reality. Social Capital is defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively. In school, we teach social skills to students. We teach them how to follow directions, how to read and write, and how to solve math problems. Students are taught many things. What they aren’t taught is how to build social capital. Here is a quick video explaining the concept of social capital.
As adults, we network on a regular basis. At work, at church, at a baseball game, on the bus; we talk to those around us and learn from each other. Students with disabilities often exit the school system without these networks set up. Without social capital, social isolationism sets in. That feeling of loneliness we all feel from time to time becomes a daily routine for those without social capital. Often the only people that an individual may come into contact with is a parent or a case worker, and that might only be once a week.
Think about the important people that are a part of your life. How did you meet them? Was it at school, work, through a friend? Imagine you are no longer in school, you do not have a job, and you haven’t met any friends since you left school. What would your life look like? Let that sink in.
When students are exiting the school system there needs to be a plan in place. If we invest in our students now, they will invent in themselves after. With support from the community, students can thrive and not lead a life of loneliness and isolation. Each county has an Independent Living Center, One Stop Career Center, and various agencies to support employment and independent living skills. Connect students early so that relationships are built before they leave us. We owe it to the next generation to support them and build on their social capital.