GRANVILLE — While classrooms are incredibly important to education, there’s also great value in practical, hands-on experiences. A relatively new program at Putnam County High School is helping special education students discover new skills and find work they’re not only good at, but also enjoy doing as well.
Working in conjunction with several area businesses including Spring Valley’s Valley Flowers and Gifts, Hennepin Foods, McNabb EMS, McNabb Veterinary and Peru’s Lily Pads, students have had the opportunity to step outside the classroom and gain real-world employment experience in a variety of settings.
The Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) and the Independent Transition Program (ITP) were started during the 2015-16 school year. Through PAES, ITP, and the dedicated work of educator Wendy Louis and aide/job coach Missy Carlson, students have been assessed for appropriate transitions, skills, behaviors and interests.
“The students have been able to explore more than 260 different job tasks within the program and have had an opportunity to explore their interests and abilities,” said Louis.
Along with the initial classroom work, the students have also worked within PCHS by helping other teachers, the media center, the office, laundry and cafeteria. After additional work with the job coach, junior and senior students have now had the opportunity to work outside of the school.
“The PAES program has connected with community businesses and places students in real life working scenarios. The ultimate goal is to find employment for students to earn income and promote an independent lifestyle as the students get older. It’s been a very productive start so far and we look to hopefully grow it more,” Superintendent Carl Carlson said.
According to Louis, there was some initial resistance from businesses to participate, so a plan was developed to bring students in as a group during field trips.
“The employers talked about the job experience as a whole and what would be expected of them. As they were able to see how capable our students were, doors opened for them. We’re so thankful for the area businesses for giving them a chance and training them to learn new job skills,” Louis said.
One of the first businesses to partner with the program was Theresa Taliani, owner of Spring Valley’s Valley Flowers and Gifts. Students in the program work at her store once a week.
“The school asked us if we’d be interested, and we were honored. We’ve been doing it for about a month now, and it’s going fabulously. We taught them how to make funeral pots, do pricing on new inventory, and they also help clean. The students are very independent, and we don’t even need to tell them what to do now; they just get to work. Out of the first group of five or six students, two were interested in floral work, and they’ve been the ones coming back. I think they really enjoy it, and we enjoy having them. We’re very pleased,” Taliani said.
Student Beth Jackson said, “I love working with the flowers and getting to know people.”
Hennepin Foods has been employing student Jonathin Brandner, and he’s been enjoying his time there.
“Working at the grocery store made me realize my abilities,” Brandner said.
Once businesses realized the goal of the program and how well the students work, things began to move quickly.
“The biggest surprise we’ve had was the speed in which we went from one committed community member to five, once we had our foot in the door. We’re thankful for the PCHS faculty, staff and administration for supporting and helping us through the process of scheduling work times and transportation,” Louis said.
The students’ work is currently all training and volunteer work, although Louis said she’d love for them to be able to transition into paying positions. She said the program’s biggest goal is to help special needs students become productive members of society as best they can.
“There are so many opportunities for them if only given a chance to learn and perform. They are such a joy to work with, and they shine when they accomplish something they never thought they could,” Louis said.
She also said the program has shown some of the students with physical challenges that jobs can be modified which shows them they can work and feel accomplishment.
“They take pride in what they get to do, and it shows in their confidence and attitudes towards working. They’re excited to do a good job and they are all doing wonderfully,” Louis said.