Sam at John & Mary's

A special education initiative at Pioneer is aimed at students gaining skills that could lead to future employment.

At its April 19 regular meeting, the Board of Education heard from Director of Special Education Jean Vallance. She shared a video from Job Skills Coach Nicole Ochoa, who has been taking seven high school students to several work sites in the community on a daily basis.

The worksite partners have included Ameri-Cans Bottle Return, John & Mary's, Marco's Pizza, Arcade Marketplace,  and Creekside Fabric. 

"This program allows students to gain marketable skills to help with future employment," Ms. Vallance said. "Some individuals learn best with one-on-one support provided by a job coach/trainer, while others require basic soft skills that can be reinforced in a realistic job setting."

Having a job coach like Mrs. Ochoa at the local businesses helps provide the employer with worry-free time while running their businesses. The program also helps the employers connect with possible future employees.

ABOVE: Jakob has worked at Americ-Cans and Arcade Marketplace.

Ms. Vallance showed a video in which Mrs. Ochoa was setting out on daily student work assignments. Students expressed positive attitudes about working in the community, while employers also spoke glowingly about the partnership with Pioneer. 

One employer, Beth Fleischman of John & Mary's, said a Pioneer work experience student who first came to the business several years ago is still employed at the restaurant.

Finding work in the community is just one part of the "transition matrix" for special needs students, Ms. Vallance said. This can also include:

  • managing money/problem-solving
  • health and wellness/personal care/hygiene
  • leisure and recreation
  • housing, including cooking, laundry, cleaning and finding a place to live
  • character development
  • daily living, including safety, time management, and organization
  • self-determination skills

Each student in the program compiles a portfolio of their work experiences both at school and in the community, while incorporating their future goals, Ms. Vallance added.