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Program provides students job training
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Warren County Enterprise sold Christmas décor in the lobby of WCHS. Penny Shockley examines the handmade Christmas ornaments as senior Logan Byrd explains how they were made. - photo by Lacy Garrison
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Senior student Wesley Ortez is employed by the school system through the school-to-work program. Ortez says his favorite part of the job is helping Brenda Thompson with garbage. Pictured, from left, are Ortez and Thompson in the WCHS cafeteria. - photo by Lacy Garrison

Warren County High School is incorporating job skill training into its special education curriculum through a school-to-work program.

One example of this is teaching students how to create and sell products. This month, around seven students in the transition class created holiday décor, including ornaments, snowmen and stamped stationary. During lunch hours, they sold their products to other students and faculty at their Christmas booth in front of the cafeteria called Warren County Enterprise.

The students practice customer service with teachers, retail selling, keeping up with inventory and expenses—all valued job skills that transcend to other job settings. 

“Students who have paid employment before exiting, they have a higher chance of being employed once they leave school,” said work-based coordinator and transition teacher Sheri Garrett. “We always send job coaches and they break down the task into manageable skill levels.”

According to Garrett, if students struggle with a particular task, they simulate the job in the classroom. For example, two students employed by the cafeteria were having difficulty with tying the snack bags. Garrett broke down the action into specific steps using photos and directions to help them successfully learn the skill.

Senior Logan Byrd stood in the lobby before Christmas break and said his responsibility is to look out for potential customers. He said their bestseller had been homemade hand warmers. 

“As you can see, there aren’t any more,” said Bryd. “They were 3x3 pieces of material with rice on the inside. You put them in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds and put them in your pockets to keep your hands warm.”

Warren County Enterprise was open during all lunch periods for two weeks prior to Christmas. The cost of holiday décor varied from 25 cents to $25 and the money went into the school’s special education fund to pay for materials, trips, and other items for students.

Senior student Wesley Ortez is employed by the school system through the school-to-work program. According to cafeteria manager Michelle Rackley, Ortez is a very hard worker, fast learner and a tremendous help to the cafeteria staff.

“His primary responsibilities are helping in the dining area cleaning up, filling our coolers, mopping and sweeping,” said Rackley. “He works three hours a day and does very well.”

“My favorite part is helping Brenda with garbage -- and I get paid,” said Ortez.

The school-to-work program extends to other high-schooler as well. It is a joint project between Vocational Rehabilitation and WCHS through federal grant funding, which provides career guidance, coordination of individual transition plans, and workplace readiness specialists who work with students at job sites around the county.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship between us and local businesses where students and employers alike get to see what the expectations are and see if the student is a viable candidate for employment,” said program coordinator Andy Evans. “They may not be a fit for your place of employment but you may help them gain employment somewhere else down the road and that’s a win for everybody.”

Added Garrett, “The program has been successful and we’ve expanded it to more job sites and work centers with pre-job skills. We try to match the students by their ability level while working on their weaknesses.”

For more information for parents interested in this program, contact Andy Evans at 931-668-5858 ext. 233.