Program helps special needs students learn job skills
Beaming down at a pencil portrait of David Archuleta she drew, Jamie Jensen happily discussed her penchant for artwork.
"I started in middle school, started wanting to draw," she said. "Just when I have spare time."
A student at Canyons Transition Academy in Sandy, Jamie is now using her love for art to contribute to a new jobs skills program at her school, which serves young adults ages 18 to 21 with moderate to severe disabilities.
Called CTE Crew, the program helps students develop social and financial skills by creating and selling food items weekly at the academy, in the Canyons District Support Center on 9400 South and 300 East.
The school exists primarily to help students develop the confidence and skills to shift smoothly to adulthood, including the workforce.
"[It's] to provide students who are interested in working in the food industry an opportunity to use those skills," said Rebecca Berrett, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the academy.
Jamie helps arrange food and designed the program's mountain and sun logo, while other students provide customer service and cashier, cook, clean or deliver orders.
Julian Figgins, a second-year CTE student, said the snack shop offers a rewarding environment to all.
"The older people see their youth doing something good," he said. "[It's] a good work environment. We all have our certain issues with each other, but we always end up working out."
The program is the brainchild of Special Education Executive Director Katharine McCary, but is run by educators, including Berrett.
The program began in February and operates Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:50 a.m. The five to eight participating students sell items ranging from fruit and granola bars to crazy bread, with customers coming from the building or nearby Mount Jordan Middle School.
Sales replenish an equipment and supplies fund and perhaps the occasional pizza party like last week's to celebrate the students' work.
Fred Ochieng, a Kenyan paraeducator who moved to Utah four years ago, said he appreciates how the school, including Crew, makes a real difference for students.
"If the whole African continent would do what [we] are doing here in this school, it would be a better place," he said. "Working with these kids really brings out so much [good]."
Ochieng said the program helps students become more socially capable.
"Some of [the students] are just too shy to initiate conversation, so by being here, it kind of brings out the social aspect," he said.
Victoria Cochrane, a first-year CTE student, said she enjoys the friendships and skills CTE Crew sparks.
"I like it because I make so much friends. â¦ I like to try and help other people when I can," she said. "I get to help customers and try and answer questions."
Brennan Haycock, a first-year CTE student, said the program is giving him marketable skills.
"I've learned how to act and talk at a job," he said. "It's something to add to my rÃ©sumÃ©."
Haycock said he also enjoys spending time talking with other students in the program.
Some challenges include making sure to prepare the right amount of food to sell and advertising enough, which has so far been done primarily by email, said Ochieng.
Berrett said she hopes the program can expand to promote other skills, such as by setting up events for the district's professional development area.