Vandguard: Amanda Fritcher’s Clear Path to Inclusivity
By Nate Fisher
“I’d love to see every kid get their dream job and be successful in the field of their choosing.”
There’s a revolution taking place in our smallish town. Amanda Fritcher, a transition specialist for Mid-State Special Education, provides an invaluable job placement, advisory, and skill-sharing service to the students at Vandalia High, and it’s transforming our community in ways we couldn’t imagine. “I feel often that businesses see somebody with a disability and think they’re unable to do things and they’re quick to judge,” she explains. Amanda has made it her existential mission to fix that misinformed perspective. “Let’s give them a chance. Let’s take our time. Let’s show them what they need to do. If they make a mistake, okay, how do we fix that? Teach them those skills, and they’ll probably be the best worker you have.”
Amanda isn’t kidding around. Finding gainful employment for students who require a curriculum unique to them is a communal effort that produces far-reaching effects, whether businesses want to admit it or not. “It matters to these students, but it matters to help society function,” she says. “We need to employ these kids. After they graduate, they need a sense of worth; they need to have something they want to do and look forward to doing.” She reminds us that changing from a school routine to a work schedule is jarring for students, and the skills and job placement obtained through the DHS Secondary Transitional Experience Program (STEP) provide the foundation necessary for a smoother switchover. Amanda’s support in that role for students continues after high school, too, and she’s available to them as long as they require. “If you look at any high school kid going into the workforce, what do they know? It’s intimidating,” Amanda emphasizes. “They don’t have those skills and they don’t necessarily know how to utilize these skills.” Her ultimate goal is to provide these students an avenue into the community through job placement and reap the benefits of a more robust, emotionally enriched municipality.
The call to better the lives of her fellow Vandals was answered after a serendipitous encounter with lifeguarding in high school, a matchpoint event for a life of compassion and advocacy. As a result of contact with a country club pool regular who had a disability, she met the individual she would later go on to assist through a home health arrangement. The experience felt like her niche, and a few years later, she graduated from Bethel University (McKenzie, TN) with a bachelor’s degree in special education. Since then, she’s worked diligently in several roles to improve the lives of teenagers in Fayette, Bond, and Ramsey county school districts.
The first question for a student who enters her office is, “What do you want to do?” The next question: “How much are you willing to work at it?” Amanda’s priority is to help them realize what it will take to obtain their dream job. “It’s one of those deciding factors for themselves,” she says. “They have to decide that.” This first opportunity to take hold of the reins of responsibility is one of the STEP program’s various openings for developing independence and self-worth, integral driving components for post-secondary success.
In her two years working with our student population, the team at Vandalia has jibed with her efforts. The charitable Vandal culture already views our students as our neighbor’s kids, so Amanda’s work is a natural extension of the school’s main quest. “I mean, you’re seeing these kids after high school, you’re still going to see them around,” she says, “and it’s good to see them working in the community that they grew up in.” There are times when local employers themselves contact Amanda’s office, searching for potential job candidates. “Employers can always reach out to the school. We’ve had businesses reach out to say they could use help.” It’s a win-win across the board, as businesses receive eager, prepped employees, and students begin their “realworld” involvement with the skills they need to thrive.
The revolutionary has a wish: “I’d love to see every kid get their dream job and be successful in the field of their choosing.” Every strategy Amanda employs, every lesson she passes on, is another step toward that singular, noble goal.