During sixth hour Career Explorations, six junior and senior special education students travel around the community to gain work experience and learn what it’s like to have a job. They have the opportunity to work at places such as Walgreens, IHOP and Premier Learning Center.
The class is a year-long option for students to prepare for life after they graduate. In the first quarter, the students learn about their interests by filling out questionnaires and going on field trips to visit different destinations. The class provides multiple ways for students to find what type of job would be a good fit for them.
“A lot of times you don’t know if you’re going to like your job or not until you get it. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes it’s a bad surprise,” paraprofessional Seth Peck said. “So it’s good for [the students] to get out and try different things, just because they never know what’s going to appeal to them.”
Also during the first quarter, students are also taught basic skills like how to fill out an application, what to do in an interview and how to get along with co-workers. They invite guest speakers to visit the class, including managers and owners of businesses, to teach the students about what having a real job entails.
Then at every following quarter, each student is placed at a different job around the community to actually start working. Students have the opportunity to do anything from bagging groceries to caring for children. The class this year has so far been successful with students liking their assignments, although there is a lack of options available since they cannot go out of certain boundaries due to district regulations.
“You don’t really have an athletic store, you don’t have a movie theater close by. We are so close to State Line and there’s [places] like Ward Parkway that has a lot of different businesses, but we can’t go across State Line,” Career Exploration teacher Patty King said. “There’s a limited amount of types of places we could go.”
During this time, students become responsible for things like bringing their work uniforms and calling their boss if they will be absent. They take buses to their job site every weekday during sixth hour except Thursday, when the students fill out self evaluations and set goals for the next time they visit the job site. If they’ve had difficulties on the site, like frustration with a customer, a teacher will role-play the situations with them. The students are evaluated and graded on a 14-point scale by their teacher each time they go to the job site. The grade consists of points such as safety, self-control and communication.
While some have paraprofessionals that accompany them, other students go alone. This depends on if the workplace is comfortable teaching the students themselves or if they need the paras to assist them and act as a liaison, as well as the student’s ability to work by themselves. If paras are needed, they learn how to do the job just as the kids do, so that they can answer any questions the student has.
“The initial intention is that I really kind of hover, and then as time goes on I back away until [the students] are pretty much doing the job on their own,” Peck said. “We’re sort of a translator to help work with them until they’re comfortable doing it on their own.”
After going through this training, many of the students get hired for at their destinations for jobs outside of school. The teachers believe that work is a better option than the SMSD program designed for special needs students 18-21 years old that many candidates enter after they graduate.
“It’s a win-win situation,” King said. “Students gain job experience and [employers] can get an employee that they can trust.”