Students receive help acquiring skills they need to succeed in life and work
WOODLAND — This spring, special needs students enrolled in Woodland Public Schools’ Partners in Transition (PIT) program learned important job procurement skills including writing a letter of interest, developing a resume, filling out job applications and participating in mock interviews by working with the Woodland Action Center, school staff, and local businesses.
Students practiced interview skills by taking part in 20-minute mock job interviews one-on-one with Woodland Public Schools staff including Vicky Barnes, Human Resources manager; Stephanie Patterson, Procurement and Apprenticeship coordinator; and Stacy Brown, the district’s business manager.
“Seeing our students dress up and get outside of their comfort zones for their interviews was a truly excellent experience,” said D’Ann Horrocks, PIT’s transition teacher. “Each student has different strengths and weaknesses that they had to investigate in order to succeed in the project.”
As a special treat for their hard work, Horrocks and her team, which includes paraeducators Ann Ingraham and Nancy Thibodeaux, purchased and designed t-shirts which Ingraham silkscreened with the class motto: “Works Hard to Play Hard.” Students concluded the unit by giving presentations on their career choice research using an informational slideshow they each developed.
Woodland Public Schools started the Partners in Transition (PIT) program in 2010 to offer special needs students from Woodland and other area high schools between the ages of 18 to 21 who have completed their state testing the opportunity to learn additional life skills when transitioning from school to adulthood.
“One of the most difficult challenges about working with this population of students is how society often feels they need to be catered to,” said Horrocks. “We turn that around and teach the students to find their skills, their values and how they can contribute to their community to lead successful, independent lives.”
The PIT program is headquartered in a home operated by Woodland Public Schools located near the district office where students spend half of each day honing their functional academic, social and life skills. For the other half of their time, students participate in job study programs at six different job sites each year where they gain valuable work skills by working at local businesses throughout the area.
By working in many different settings, students discover possible career options allowing them to develop the necessary skillsets to prepare for their future. “We try to find as many relevant real-world job opportunities as possible including hotels, supermarkets and more,” said Horrocks. “We’re always looking for more businesses to partner with in order to offer our students opportunities to develop a broad range of career skills.”
Sometimes, those opportunities can be incredibly close to home. This year, the district’s Information Technology (IT) department offered a job study position to Ian Mcmurrick, a PIT student. After seeing his aptitude for computer repair, the IT staff helped Ian prepare for and pass an intensive proctored certification test, the CompTIA A+ Certification. This fall, Ian will start working to pass his second, more-advanced certification test.
“Our IT department has just taken our job study program above and beyond,” said Horrocks. “I can’t express my gratitude enough for their work with our program – it’s just fantastic!”
In addition to working at job sites, students operate a variety of small class-based businesses developed by the PIT program including car detailing, making dog treats, grocery shopping and selling crafts at local markets.
“By working in these small businesses, students learn the skills needed to provide high-quality and valuable services in real workplace environments,” said Horrocks. “The funds raised from our businesses help support our community activities and field trips which the students participate in throughout the year.”
Horrocks discovered her passion for helping students with special needs at the very end of finishing her degree in Physical Education Health.
“I took an adaptive health course which made me realize I needed to specialize in special education,” she said. “Being able to develop one-on-one connections with individual students and making a specific difference for them inspires me, especially since I spend almost as much time with my students as my own family.”
After returning to school for her special education certificate while working as a paraeducator, Horrocks worked for Vancouver School District. When an opportunity opened up at Woodland Public Schools, she jumped at the chance and has worked for Woodland for 30 years.
“For me, the biggest draw to Woodland was the small size of the community where I’m able to make a bigger impact,” she explained. “Other districts don’t have programs like ours for students who need additional skills – I’m so thankful for how supportive our district is to us.”
Local businesses interested in partnering with the Partners in Transition program by offering job opportunities or community members interested in seeing how they can participate can contact D’Ann Horrocks via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (360) 841-8540. You can learn more about the Partners in Transition Program by visiting the district website at www.woodlandschools.org.
Information provided by Woodland Public Schools.