Special needs students in District 214 get work eperiences
Special needs students in District 214 learn job skills to find careers
More than two years ago, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 opened its first coffee cart in the main hallway of the district's headquarters.
About 18 students with special needs in the district's transition program worked behind the cart in the mornings and afternoons. With the help of a staff member, they learned to handle money, restock supplies and improve their social skills and communication.
Today, nearly 130 special needs students across District 214 work at microbusinesses in their schools and in workplaces in the Northwest suburbs. The experiences, coordinated by District 214's Center for Career Discovery, are part of the district's effort to ensure all students explore careers, leave with an authentic workplace experience and gain soft skills to help them find jobs.
"These experiences are student-centered, driven by interests and strengths, and meet students where they are socially, emotionally and academically to prepare them for success," said Krista Paul, District 214's assistant director of career and technical education, who oversees the Center for Career Discovery.
Once students have identified a career area of interest, they are matched with a job site for a semester and given support to grow.
For example, the district uses grant funds to employ job coaches to work directly with special needs students at every workplace. Job coaches help students develop appropriate work habits and behavior, including problem solving, staying on task, asking for help and taking the initiative, district officials said.
Besides microbusinesses in the schools, students work at jobs in the community and serve in a variety of roles, from helping prepare food to delivering mail to interacting with adults and children.
Laura Shaffer was a student in District 214's transition program for 18-to-22-year-olds. As a student, she worked at a few job sites, including the Rolling Meadows Public Library, TJ Maxx and Walgreens.
At each workplace, Shaffer said she learned valuable skills and gained insight.
"I've learned a lot from all these job sites. Take one thing at a time and don't go too fast. If you make a mistake, it's OK," she said.
A few years ago, while working at Walgreens, Shaffer impressed her supervisor with her work ethic and was offered a job.
"I was very excited. This (was) my first time being hired for a job," she said.
Last school year, Brandon Artwohl worked at Marshalls, where he learned how to put sensors on products and how to tag items.
"My favorite part … is seeing other people that I know and talking and helping them out," said Artwohl, a recent John Hersey High School graduate.
Giving students the opportunity to interact with others in the community and outside of the classroom has value, said Hersey special education division head Genevieve Rosenberg.
"They learn to respond to someone other than their teachers, so they learn to respond to someone who really is their boss and has the potential to be their real boss," she said.
About this seriesThis story is part of a 16-week series looking at Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Career Pathways program.
To join District 214's Career Pathways effort as an internship host, career mentor or classroom speaker, contact Barb Kain in the Teaching and Learning Department, firstname.lastname@example.org. To support the program financially through a sponsorship, early career credentials or college credits for students, naming or other contribution, contact Erin Brooks with the District 214 Education Foundation, email@example.com.