For two Santa Fe ISD students with disabilities the path to greater independence lay through what every young adult seeks: a job.

Through a partnership with College of the Mainland, students Drew Riggin and Jon Coutorie worked for a year each Friday at the COM campus.

“It was by far the favorite day of the students’ weeks,” said Rebecca Ringer, STRIVE instructor. “We do work at other locations. Friday was a completely different experience for them. They gained a lot of independence.”

Each Friday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. the students worked in the Child Development Lab School, gym and campus under the direction of two Santa Fe ISD instructors and COM employees.

Riggin worked in the college¹s gym with COM director of student life Tige Cornelius, cleaning equipment and completing other tasks that COM gym assistants tackle.

“Drew is awesome,” said Cornelius. “He follows directions very well.”

Couterie worked in the COM Child Development Lab School under director Robert Castro.

"They pick up, do laundry and make beds,” said Castro. “It’s part of their training so when they’re on their own they have life skills. It’s also so they can get a job and have practice working with a boss.”

The experience was part of the STRIVE (Students in Transition Reaching Independence through Vocational Education) program at Santa Fe ISD. The program supports young adult students with disabilities from autism spectrum disorders to intellectual disabilities as they move from public school to adult life.

“Tige really understands the students and their strengths,” said Ringer. “Drew is meticulous. We would hear the pond has never been cleaner. Jon loved children.”

At the end of the year the two students, who are on the Santa Fe ISD special Olympics basketball team, challenged Cornelius and COM membership and community recreation coordinator Michael Richardson, a former University of Texas basketball player, to a basketball game.

“They played really hard. It was priceless,” said Ringer. “It was one of those memories they’re always going to have. Jon called Michael ‘Shaq.’”

The experience boosted students’ practical skills and confidence.

“Jon has one more year,” said Ringer. “Drew’s independence flourished at COM. He’s ready to graduate and go to work.”

For more information about the COM Child Development Lab School, email

For more information about the STRIVE Program, contact Kathy Oliver, Director of Special Programs at Santa Fe ISD, at