Just after lunch at Meadville Area Senior High (MASH) on Wednesday, Landon Kafferlin and Andrew Singer were working wherever they wanted: the Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community.
As the two 19-year-olds walked steadily around Cribbs Dining Hall with paper place mats, napkins and silverware next to their place cards, it’s easy to see why they were recently named Wesbury’s Volunteer of the Month. I got it right away.
“They get to work right away,” says Stacey Hoey, Wesbury’s Volunteer Services Coordinator. “They are willing to do whatever is asked of them, and they do it with the utmost care and attention to detail.”
And it didn’t matter, Hoey says, that the table favors the two students made for Thanksgiving and Christmas were a big hit with Cribbs residents.
Working at Wesbury is one of several real-world employment experiences members of the MASH classroom made up of autistic students participate in every week, said teacher Shea Herbstritt. Various developmental tasks are prepared for life after school.
The range of opportunities for students with autism, severe learning disabilities, and intellectual disabilities is expanding at a time when employers across the board are expanding their search for new employees. The response from local businesses has been encouraging, he said.
“I know the employees at these companies are looking forward to my students coming, and that is a very positive thing because there is social interaction going on,” she said. I was. “What I’ve noticed is that those places give students opportunities instead of worrying that they can’t because of their disabilities.”
Since the beginning of the school year, Kafferlin, Singer, and other members of the class have developed workplace skills at Wesbury, The Shoe Department, and the Salvation Army Food Pantry. And the chance to finish school wasn’t the only thing that got them enthusiastic.
“I like to work hard,” Kafferin said. “I like working because it’s a lot of fun.”
Singer expressed similar sentiments, though they differed in terms of which job they enjoyed more. Wesbury “definitely” tops Kafferin’s list, but Singer is “shoe-less” in the shoe department. He said he likes to go straight to. Easy shift by clearing shelves cluttered by browsing customers.
Students in Herbstritt’s classes may be relatively new to the workplace, but they are part of a broader landscape of career-oriented engagements for students with autism and intellectual disabilities. Life skills classes have long emphasized the practical experiences students encounter in their daily lives. Other programs adjust their focus according to the abilities of the participants.
At Crawford Tech, the nearly 30 students who attend Jodi Barr’s morning and afternoon classes receive personalized educational programs for a variety of assignments. Career Education classes are part of the Student Goals and Employment Understanding Program administered by the Northwest Tri-Counties Intermediate Unit.
According to Barr, the emphasis is on the practical, aiming to be compliant with the program’s acronym, SEGUE. Students in Barr’s class are exposed to a variety of activities that they need to master from school to adulthood. For example, writing resumes, filling out job applications, meeting up for interviews, deciphering payslips, budgeting for housing, planning transportation needs, and more.
Barr makes her 79-year-old mother work occasionally.
“I let them practice other soft skills. “They have to come up with a reason to stop being sick. She enjoys it a lot, but a lot of kids don’t know how.”
Students in the class also have the opportunity to gain work experience at local businesses such as Boot Box, H&H Marketplace, and Co Manufacturing.
Weekly site visits don’t make money, but they can give students a taste of the workplace and give them something to put on their resumes, Barr said. In fact, some seniors who participated in the program have already found employment, she added.
Barr doesn’t hesitate to remind students that many employers are actively recruiting new talent.
“One thing we have to take away from all this is giving these kids a chance,” Barr said. It’s not that I don’t want to achieve something.”
In just a few short months, Herbstritt has seen Cafferin and Singer make remarkable progress. At The Shoe Dept., I regularly help organize the shelves, but I regularly add other tasks, most recently marking shoes using the store’s device.
“From my point of view, this shows that trust is being built and that students are capable of doing these new things and being successful,” Herbstritt said. “Boys know the importance of what they’re doing, and the way they talk about it shows that they feel it’s important.”