Brandon Glende, senior at Warren Township High School, spent a recent Friday morning at McClure’s Garage with Jack Fallos, McClure’s manager, learning how to build small engines on snowblowers. Glende was given the opportunity to have hands-on job shadowing in a field that interests him through Transition Services at Warren Township High School.
Transition Services gives special needs students the opportunity to gain work experience and a better understanding of their work goals before they graduate through job shadow options. The program serves 516 Warren Township High School students with a range of mental, physical and learning disabilities. The program works with students from when they enter high school until they turn 22.
“The diversity helps kids because it can help them in different jobs,” Joyce said. “We like helping kids, especially these kids because they don’t always get the same chances other kids do.”
Glende said he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and takes many general education classes alongside classes like Career Planning, where he tried a Project Discovery kit on small engine repair. That repair project inspired his desire to job shadow at McClure’s, he said.
Komenda said fourteen different Warren classrooms use Project Discovery kits, which allow students to become familiar with more than 30 career tracks. For example, there are kits on retail, food service, cosmetology, engine repair and construction. The kits range from 10 to 90 days to complete, and special education students try 15-20 kits on average, Komenda said.
If students find a kit that interests them, Transition Services tries to match them up with a job shadowing experience at a local business so they can see what the job is like in the real world, Komenda said.
“If they enjoy the job shadowing [students visit the business four times on average], we move on to job training [for up to 90 hours]. If they don’t enjoy it – for example, they shadow in a kitchen and can’t stand the smell – then they shadow a different job experience,” she said.
Komenda said the program needs more businesses in specialized fields to participate. Transition Services has been working with the Gurnee Chamber of Commerce and Gurnee Village Board to find more participants.
Peg Merar, director of special education services at WTHS, said 50 to 60 percent of students with disabilities reported finding employment after high school in 2012.
“We want that percentage to be higher, so we want more local businesses to get involved,” Merar said. “Our students are very good workers – they’re dedicated, focused and committed to the job.”
Transition Services needs job shadowing opportunities in the fields of automotive, carpentry, construction, dentistry and animal care, Merar said. Participation costs nothing to businesses and students are bussed from WTHS to the job sites.
Merar said many parents of students with disabilities worry, “‘What is my child going to do when they’re an adult?'”
“They have obstacles to traditional routes,” Merar said. “We help families through this process by helping them prepare for their future.”
Komenda said parents are very involved in the process.
“It’s an opportunity for students to learn their strengths instead of viewing their disability as negative,” Komenda said. “We work with them on resumes, job interviews – everything the general education students are getting.”
At Warren’s business center, students can gain work experience by answering phones, delivering xerox paper and toners and socializing with staff.
Merar said, “We work on the soft skills you need no matter what job you have – problem solving, following directions, finishing tasks in a timely manner.”
Komenda said she meets with each of the 516 students one-on-one to ask them about their career goals and assess their strengths.
Bear said, “We are looking to create adults that will be productive members of society.”
Learn more about Project Discovery developed by Education Associates, Louisville, KY.
Article published by Suburban Life Published in Downers Grove, Illinois, USA, Shaw Media.
Photo by (Candace H.Johnson) Article by: JESSE CARPENDER