Dist. 207 program gets students ready to work
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Jobseekers bring to their search a wide array of skills, interests and experience, but most are looking for essentially the same thing: That one employer who will give them an opportunity to show what they can do.
So it is with students in Maine Township High School District 207's Transition Program. One little-known facet of Illinois public education is that schools provide transition education for young people age 18-22 who have completed graduation requirements but need assistance in developing independent living and work skills.
Jeffrey Gallicho and Michelle Dwyer run District 207's Transition Program from a recently remodeled and expanded facility at Maine East High School. Besides teaching such living skills as grocery shopping, laundry and meal preparation, the Transition Program staff coaches students in preparation to perform a variety of real-world work tasks.
Among jobs that various students can perform are food service, stocking, clerical, banquet set up, housekeeping, janitorial, day care and mailroom sorting and envelope stuffing. Some are capable of working as a valet, service clerk or in the areas of laundry service or shipping and receiving.
Transition Program students display a wide range of disabilities, and Gallicho and Dwyer readily acknowledge that some are capable of competitive employment while others are not. But for those who are, finding a job has become an even greater challenge in the current economic climate.
"Because of the economy, some employers are looking for workers who can multi-task. Some of our students would be OK at cleaning and sorting, but would not be able to serve as a cashier," Dwyer said. "If there's an employer who doesn't need a full-time worker, but needs someone to do this kind of work even for a couple of hours, that's our ideal (employer)."
Fortunately, some local employers have chosen to utilize this source of workers. The Transition Program currently has students or former students who are competitively employed by, among others, Dominick's, Jewel, McDonald's and the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. But other students are finding it tough to break in.
Gallicho and Dwyer say they are diligent in trying to place students only in jobs in which they are confident that a student's capabilities match the employer's needs. "We don't want our student to fail," Dwyer said. "We want the correct placement. We would never place them somewhere that it would embarrass anyone."
One hurdle, Gallicho said, is the interview process, because some students capable of performing well in a particular job might nonetheless have trouble expressing their attributes during an interview. "I have a student, who when he was first looking for a job, it was difficult to understand his articulation," he said. 'When he applied for a job and got called for an interview, I talked to the hiring manager ahead of time and told him about all the things that this student could do, but explained that when you interview him you're going to have a hard time understanding him."
Employers who are able to clear that hurdle and give Transition Program students a chance often find that they made a good decision.
A general manager for Panera Bread in Niles said of a Transition Program student he hired that: "It's a financial boon for us to hire someone like Becky because she's so good with customers. It also helps us give back to the community."
A similar view was expressed by Jeffrey Wienike, director of Quest Food Service at Maine West High School, who said of his Transition Program student that: "Hiring Jeremy was one of the best things I did. He is dependable, friendly, on time, determined and loyal. I strongly endorse this program."
Dwyer also noted that Transition Program students tend to be well focused. "One benefit is that our students aren't kids who will be distracted easily or socializing a lot with others. They're on time, and they're responsible. That's a bonus for employers. We just have to get past that interview so we can let that kid's ability shine on the task."
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