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Students that are a part of transition services at Galax High School admit they just love getting out of school each day.
But they're not playing hooky. Instead, they're volunteering their time at Kroger, Willing Partners, Goodwill, Backpack Buddies and the Tri-Area Pregnancy Resource Center to learn new skills.
Transition services is designed to help students with disabilities transition from school to life after school through various activities. It helps them find meaningful employment and learn skills that will allow them become more independent, said transition services teacher Joan Hooven.
Even though transition services has been a part of GHS for several years, this is the first year for the community-based instruction. Receiving stimulus monies has funded this part of the program, which allows students to volunteer their time each day working in different locations to gain understanding of the working world.
“Once students got out of school, that was it,” said Hooven. “Schools were so focused on academics that it wasn't extended beyond that. Now, schools are looking at areas that are more far-reaching after students graduate.”
Hooven said this program provides skills and encouragement to those who need help adjusting from high school to work as they explore their careers and learn along the way.
Working for eight hours each day, Hooven noted, is much different from sitting in class.
“Being in the real world, it's more than academics,” said Hooven. “You have to be prepared to function in society after you graduate, and for some, that requires extra training and education.
“Now, it's not just what we're doing in school but what we're doing to prepare these students after.”
Students participating in the program enjoy getting out of class for a couple of hours each day, like most students do, but they also look forward to going to work and learning new skills.
At Willing Partners in Galax, students sort stuffed animals, hang clothing and organize books. At Kroger, they check labels for expiration dates and stock shelves.
“This might seem simple for some of us, but these are skills,” said Hooven. “It teaches skills they need for a job, while learning to work with distractions and different levels of interaction.”
These students learn that the way they talk to peers in the hallway is much different than the way they would talk to customers in the workplace, said Hooven.
“When students first began volunteering at these places, they were very shy,” she said, of when the program took off in October 2009. “Now, they're becoming more confident and building more relationships.”
After work, the students walk away feeling accomplished and with a sense of pride and responsibility, she said.
When Cody Sage was offered the choice to attend the high school's award ceremony or spend an hour working at Kroger, he told Hooven he had a job to do.
“'I need to go do my job,'” Sage told Hooven. “It's important to help these students build a sense of responsibility like this.”
“I love it because it gets me out of school,” Sage confesses, as he hangs men's trousers on the rack at Willing Partners. “But really, I can learn skills that I can use for the rest of my life. And anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”
Farrah Lundy, who participates in the program, smiled as she organized a pile of stuffed animals and Barbie dolls.
“It's a fun thing to do,” she said. “Me coming here is the best time of my life. I love to work.”
Hooven said since the program began, students have begun thinking about their future. One hopes to gain permanent employment at a grocery store, another in car detailing and one at a hair salon.
Hooven, who worked in special education at Wythe County and Galax Middle School before taking the position to oversee the program this year, began by going out to businesses and asking if there is a job or a task her students could help with.
“The businesses in Galax have been very welcoming,” said Hooven. “We work at retailers, a grocery store, an office and non-profits. And by working with non-profits, like Backpack Buddies, the students have a chance to experience charity and what that means.
“It is the responsibility of parents, teachers and the community to help these students gain skills they need.”
Because it is a school-credited program, students don't receive paychecks, but are treated to movie days and carry with them the sense of accomplishment, Hooven said.