Students get boost to meet post-graduation work needs

Friday, July 2, 2004

They're good students -- no behavior problems, great attendance records, decent grades.

But officials at Jackson High School recently realized something was preventing a particular group of students -- those with mild learning disabilities -- from finding post-high school employment.

"Because of a learning disability or handicap, these students have to learn how to compensate," said Rick McClard, Jackson High School principal. "Traditional work place training doesn't work. You have to teach to their strengths, not their weaknesses. These kids have a lot of potential, but because of that road block, they never get a chance."

To help combat that problem and give special education students work experience, Jackson High School created the "Building Experiences for Successful Transitions," or BEST, program in partnership with Southeast Missouri Hospital.

The program, which will allow up to 10 special education students from Jackson to work in various departments at the hospital 2.5 hours a day, will begin Aug. 23.

The idea for BEST came from a parent concerned about her special needs son's post-graduation options. In response, Jackson officials took a close look at the four-year follow-up studies the state requires districts to do on all graduates and discovered that 35 percent of special education high school students between 1999 and 2002 were now either unemployed or underemployed.

Jackson special education teacher Pam Denecke will supervise the program and work on-site with the students at Southeast Hosptial daily.

"Parents are very excited about this. They see it as a great opportunity for their kids to gain skills and build a future," Denecke said. "I hope it will boost their self esteem and make them realize they can do things."

Almost full

So far, nine juniors and seniors have signed up for the program.

"We limited it to 10 students because it would be hard to supervise a large group," said Denecke. "But 10 is not a low number when you think about productive citizenship."

Students will have opportunities to work in 16 hospital departments, including lab, radiology, recovery room, housekeeping, laundry, business office and food service.

Denecke said the program's biggest obstacle right now is transportation. The school is looking for funding to help transport the students to and from the hospital each day.

335-6611, ext. 128

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