As a toddler, Daniel Sumrall, 19, shocked Baylor University staff when he fixed a broken VCR during a doctor’s appointment, his parents, Steve and Laura Sumrall said.

“He was always a little different than the other kids, but in a good way,” she said.

While he excels in memorization, coding, programming and all things computers, his autism sometimes hinders his ability to communicate and interact with others.

After graduating last year, his parents worried about how Daniel would transition to life outside Midway Independent School District.

Now, Daniel is one of the first students in the state to participate in a new Texas Workforce Commission training program designed to help students with special needs transition out of high school.

“We always joke with him about being our pioneer. He always seems to be at the right place to be the first in line for a lot of different services,” Laura Sumrall said.

At times, the year leading up to graduation was difficult for Daniel and his family.

“We both went to Baylor. Our daughter graduated from Baylor. Our son is at Baylor. So the thing to do at our house is to graduate from high school and to go to Baylor,” she said. “It was hard for me because it’s like, how do you tell him that’s not how it’s going down? There were some tears.”

Now, Daniel and dozens of other Midway High School graduates and graduates from Waco and Connally ISDs receive on-the-job training through a pilot partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission that pairs businesses with students with special needs. In Texas, special education students have the option to stay enrolled in transitional public school programs for two years after graduation.

The partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission funds seven job coaches who provide instruction and accommodations for students as they learn the ropes at several Waco-area businesses.

Three days a week, Daniel provides clerical assistance — copying, shredding, organizing, filing — to office staff at Spring Valley Elementary School.

“To make copies to give the children of the world,” Daniel said.

“He can file papers like no other. … He doesn’t mind that repetition,” Laura said. “Things that are boring for you and me are comforting and good for him.”

When asked what his strengths are, Daniel flexed his arms, smiled and replied, “Muscles.”

His job coach, Liz Mackey, said Daniel is a fast, detail oriented worker with a knack for technology.

“He’s extremely computer oriented,” Mackey said. “And he very much wants to make the people he’s working for happy.”

Ultimately, Daniel said he wants to pursue a career in computer science.

Mackey is confident Daniel could reach that goal in time.

Midway ISD special education teacher Jackie Searles said the special education vocational program could be helpful to all students.

“It’s learning to live,” Searles said. “I wish I had had a class like this.”

“The idea behind our program is we want students to be presented by the end of their work experience with a job offer,” Searles said. “That’s our end game in mind. Anything else just beefs up their resume.”

Other Midway students are finishing up their first month working at H-E-B, the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, and Spring Valley Elementary School. The students will pick up new job placements and training in December, January and April.

The Texas Workforce Commission program is a win-win situation because students earn a paycheck and gain necessary work skills, while employers learn how to incorporate each student’s special needs into the workforce, Mackey said.

“We’re working on getting more school districts and local businesses involved,” she said. “The more our students are out there the more people will see that they’re capable. They’re just as capable as other kids and young adults.”

Recommended for you