On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Joslyn Jevne comes to the Balancing Goat during school hours. She spends about an hour a day there, helping out around the coffee shop by stocking, cleaning and occasionally making drinks.
This arrangement is all part of Mandan High School’s Work Experience Program which aims to help students with special needs find work in the local community.
Instead of taking regular lessons during Work Experience periods, students in Mandan High’s special education classes instead go to designated work sites ranging from coffee shops like the Balancing Goat to supermarkets and gas stations.
“We’ve learned about personal hygiene,” said Joslyn, “and cover letters, interviews, following instructions at a job, and goals both short-term and long-term. “
The idea, teachers claim, is to help build their skills in the workplace before graduating high school, and set them up with potential employers in the future.
And according to both instructors and the students’ employers, the project has been a major success: many of these workplaces have hired program participants in full-time positions upon their graduation or even created new positions for them. And businesses say they all do their jobs well.
“I have evaluations and I’ve talked to them,” said Becca Voorhees, a teacher with the Work Experience program. “They’ve been really receptive to us coming in because we’re trying to promote inclusion and show the community that our kids can work and that they have skills that can be used to help make to the community a better place.”
With help from the program, Mandan High intends to make sure the community knows that students with special needs can help out in their towns. Despite all the success the projects seems to have had, the educators only have one thing on their mind: making sure the lessons they’re taught stick with their students into adulthood.
“I just hope they can get just those basic work skills,” said Voorhes. “When they are done with my class, or done with high school, they can independently work in the community and I hope that Bismarck-Mandan is willing to take the students and see the skills that they have.”
Mandan High School hopes to partner with more local businesses to continue the work study program with students in the future.