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Special Education Students “Work” at School to Learn Essential Job Skills

Numerous high schools are starting to incorporate job skills training into the special education curriculum by teaching students how to create and sell products to students and faculty at school. By creating a job-like setting within the classroom, students learn basic job skills they may otherwise never learn.

One example is Freedom High School’s special education class that magically converts into an elegant Italian bistro with student “cooks” and “waiters” by noon. Lights are dimmed, flameless candles are “lit,” and Italian music soars through the air and Voila for $5 teachers and staff have an onsite cafe. They also have afters school taco Tuesdays and Wednesdays and run a coffee cart with pastries in the morning. Talk about a full time gig!

The students practice customer service with teachers, take reservations, prepare meals, clean up, and run the cash register—all valued job skills they may otherwise never be taught. By mimicking the working world inside the comforting walls of the school, the students with special needs are taught valuable job skills in a welcoming, non-threatening environment surrounded by friends and faculty.

“I definitely have seen an increase in their confidence as they go through the school and interact with other teachers. They see them as customers now, so they really take some pride in that,” says Bernice Blankenship, a special education teacher at Freedom.

By not only learning these job skills, but also practicing them in everyday transactions, the students acquire basic job skills that can help them one day land a real entry-level labor position such as a grocery, janitorial, retail, or warehouse assistant.

“They are not 10 years old. These kids are within three or four years of graduation. They’re going to be their parents’ responsibility for the rest of their life unless they can get some job skills,” says Janelle Grimm, another special education teacher.

Williams High School’s special education class has also started teaching job skills by selling canine treats to students and faculty. Just as the student employees serve their customers fresh soups and salads at Freedom High School, Williams’ students join the workforce by baking and selling dog treats.

Similarly, the students learn how to successfully follow directions, socialize with customers, and sell a product—the most basic job skills needed for any position. With continued efforts taken to teach job skills in special education classrooms, students with special needs will have a better chance of getting a job in the future.

For further job skills training and transitional programs for students with special needs, check out our First Job Survival Skills, JobSmart, and Transitions curricula.

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