At McPherson Middle School, special education students are getting the chance to develop work skills and job experience through a prevocational training program.
The program is part of the regular special education class. Students perform tasks, such as shredding paper and stocking pencil machines while keeping track of hours and calculating how much they would be paid for doing those tasks in the workplace.
Mary Jo Staab, psychologist at McPherson Middle School, said these activities help students develop “soft skills” like work ethic and punctuality.
“A lot of students with education needs don’t do so well after they graduate because they don’t have the skills in place,” Staab said. “We give them opportunities in real-world situations and incorporate academic skills like math into the activities.”
Beth Klassen, a special education teacher at the middle school, said this makes it more likely her students will be able to find and hold down a job after graduation.
“People more often lose their jobs because they don’t have a good attitude or work ethic,” Klassen said. “We teach them those skills.”
Each of the 11 students in the class has a folder containing a time sheet and tools to help them calculate hours and pay.
“We make it real for them,” said Laura Labertew, a speech pathologist at the middle school. “People learn best when something applies to something they know.”
This program is in its third year, and the staff hopes to expand it to two classes so they can serve more students. Klassen said doing these activities also helps teachers identify students’ skills and help them find a career the students are interested in.
Jacob Huff, a special education student at McPherson Middle School, said he enjoys stocking pencil machines around school.
“I like to see all the quarters and dates on them,” Huff said.
Shelby Huff, another special education student at the middle school, said she likes shredding papers.
“I like to count them,” she said. “I feel like I’m helping the school.”
Staab said the administration has been supportive of the different things the special education staff wants to try.
“It’s not just doing an activity. It’s incorporating skills and exploring jobs,” Staab said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do at the middle school — explore.”
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