Students prepare for work in special program |

Students prepare for work in special program

by Linda Hiller

With the help of community businesses, students in the Douglas High School special education work program are learning how to get a jump on life in the working world after high school.

“We are teaching them how to get a job – how to fill out an application, how to interview, how to act as a professional once they get a job and more,” said program coordinator Paula Albert.

Initiated eight years ago with four students, Albert said the program now accommodates 25 pupils and is designed to educate and prepare students with special needs to become productive, motivated and employable individuals in the work force.

“Students must want to be in the class and qualify as special education students,” Albert said.

For those who do not plan further education following high school, the work program helps expose them to the working world before they may become dependent on money from employment after graduation.

Albert, job development specialist at DHS, said she doesn’t sugar-coat the business world for her special education students.

“I tell them that ‘reality bites,'” she said. “In my class the word ‘can’t’ is not allowed.”

Students who participate in the work program are eligible to receive school credit for hours spent on the job.

Special education teacher Mike Robinson also participates in the program.

Many Valley businesses have become involved with the students, inviting them to come work and learn on site.

PolyPhaser Corp. in Minden, a manufacturing company, is one of the most recent businesses to welcome the students. The company’s human resources manager, Karen Rader, said PolyPhaser become involved because Albert asked.

“Paula is very good,” Rader said. “In the beginning I don’t think we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but now that we’ve had the kids here, we’re very happy with them.”

Eight students will be involved in a 14-week stint at PolyPhaser, coming to the jobsite several days a week for the project.

“We’ll have them collating marketing material, which is something we never get a chance to get done,” Rader said. “Plus we’ll have them working in packaging and in the prep-assembly area and also doing filing and document control.”

Rader said she feels the situation is definitely “win-win” for both PolyPhaser and the DHS students.

“They are wonderful, well-behaved kids,” she said, adding that the company would be open to hiring Albert’s students in the future.

One participant in the DHS program, Jason Clarkson, began paid employment at AC Houston Lumber Co. last week.

“Jason is a senior and this is so great for him,” Albert said. “He is a real success story. Every year I have at least one student get a job after graduating.”

Albert said part of the self- esteem training she does in her class is to have each student start the day by telling her something good about themselves.

“The kids love it,” she said. “One day Jason sat down, smiled and said, ‘I’m a great person!'”

Albert said she would be happy to hear from any businesses interested in participating with the DHS. special education work program. She can be reached at 782-5136.

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