A new SCPS program is giving students with special needs the experience they need to succeed in the workforce.
Strolling into one of the buildings of Oakmonte Village at Lake Mary on a summer afternoon, cheery greetings come from behind the front desk. Director of sales and marketing Michael T. Slagel and high schooler Joshua Cortez are manning the phones and assisting visitors, chatting and laughing as they tend to the tasks at hand.
Michael is training Joshua – a student at Lake Mary High School – on his responsibilities and familiarizing him with the environment at the senior-living community. The work-training arrangement represents a new alliance between Oakmonte and a work-transition program within Seminole County Public Schools Exceptional Student Support Services, or ESSS.
The Summer Youth work-transition program is designed to help high-functioning students with developmental disabilities learn workforce skills, get information on résumé and interview preparedness, and build their sense of self.
And on this particular day, Joshua radiates confidence.
Oakmonte has been a strong supporter of the new Summer Youth program right out of the gate.
“Oakmonte has really just taken it and run with it,” says Felicia Naidu-Smith, an ESSS administrator.
“We are so fortunate to be here,” adds Julie DelRusso of ESSS.
At Oakmonte, opportunities seem limitless for Summer Youth program participants.
Kelleigh Klein, executive director of Royal Senior Care at Oakmonte, says her organization is excited to find new experiences to add to the students’ time there. For instance, they learned how to fill out job applications.
“They also attended a daily staff meeting,” Kelleigh says, so the students could see how a business operates.
Even better, says Kelleigh, Oakmonte residents were happy to get involved, as well. A former professor of astronomy was eager to speak to the students about his field of work, for example.
Felicia says that having Oakmonte share the Summer Youth program’s goal – to make the workforce-transition opportunities as robust as possible – has been exceptional. The transition process is one Felicia works on constantly with her students.
“Our kids wear a uniform,” she says. “They are told they need to have their shirts tucked in. It’s all part of on-the-job training for the world of work.”
Fitness and Food
Lake Mary High School senior Chris Acevedo has always been interested in the culinary field. In fact, his grandmother is an avid cook of Spanish-themed dishes.
During his trip to Oakmonte, he worked in the kitchen, helping to season chicken for dinner for 300. In addition to this hands-on experience, Chris also garnered some global knowledge from the chefs there.
“They told me about the difference between Maine lobster and rock lobster,” Chris says, “and that tilapia is called sunfish in Hawaii, and that Japan has the best beef.”
Student Brantley Cole, who led walks as part of Oakmonte’s fitness initiatives during his day at work, decided he’d like to try work in the kitchen, as well.
“The kitchen looks interesting,” he said as he smiled and put on his gloves to work with assistant sous-chef Joshua Perez.
Whenever they are visiting a local business, the students are always accompanied by ESSS job coach Ann Speer. She ensures that program participants are safe (wearing non-slip shoes in the kitchen, for example) and progressing on their road to employment.
“The goal is for them to be competitively employed,” Ann says. “We’re thankful for our business partners.”
And ESSS students do get hired – at places like Florida Hospital and LongHorn Steakhouse. Other area work-transition partners include Chili’s, Walgreens, Publix, and the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs.
Thirty-five students participated in the Summer Youth program in this, its inaugural season. Next year, program leaders hope more local businesses will join as partners to give students even more opportunities to prepare for their future in the workforce.
To learn more about the Summer Youth program, call Felicia Naidu at 407-320-0322
Want More Information?