Burlington High School special education teachers Jared Boyd (left) and Amy Anhold are part of a program that helps teach students job skills. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

BHS program helps prepare special education students for world of work

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

If you come down the main hallway at Burlington High School between the hours of 7:10 and 11 a.m. any morning of the week, you can find the B-Town Cafe.

If you like coffee, or if apple cider is your thing, drop on in. Tuesday’s special? Candy Cane hot chocolate. There’s no food yet, but that might be coming.

And while the small shop offers caffeine-starved teenagers – not to mention teachers and aides – a daily fix, it also serves a practical purpose. Amy Anhold’s “Coffee Shop” class teaches vocational skills and work habits to 16 special education students with a goal of preparing those students for competitive employment within the community.

Jerod Boyd, who has been at BHS for four years, works in conjunction with Anhold – who runs the coffee shop. The purpose of the program is twofold: one, to teach students proper work skills and behavior, and, two, give those students the ability to put those skills to use beyond the high-school environment.

The class is essentially on-the-job training with job coaching from Anhold and the other staff involved. Other students volunteer to work in the cafe as well, which gives both sides a chance to learn from each other.

The coffee shop has several different aspects, including greeting, running cash registers, cleaning and placing orders. The shop works with Gooseberries Fresh Food Market to place supply orders and keep the shop stocked.

The coffee shop is new this year, but the program of transitioning students into every day work environments started with Ken Zahn 20-some years ago. Zahn retired two years ago, which is when Boyd took over.

Kathi Sawyer, two-year special education aide, said, “I think it’s teaching the special ed students responsibility and job skills.

“The regular ed students who get to work in here have an opportunity to work with special ed students they wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with,” Sawyer explained. “I think it’s very important that the regular ed students are exposed to people with disabilities because they will come in contact with them in their regular lives.

“They need to know how to interact, and not be afraid or feel superior.”

Anhold said the social interaction is one of the biggest components of the program.

“I think that it’s important that they’re learning to interact with co-workers here,” Anhold explained. “It’s something you can’t teach in a textbook.”

Boyd then takes the students from the coffee shop and transitions them into a career awareness program. Students who have the most significant need start in the coffee shop, while other students start in Boyd’s classroom.

Students who work with Boyd develop their interview skills, job applications and skills needed to obtain jobs. The first semester focuses on pre-employment skills, while students are actually placed in a job for the second semester.

Colin Fulton is one of the special education students involved in the coffee shop program. He is autistic. Anhold said one of the biggest improvements Fulton has made has been greeting customers and taking orders.

When asked his favorite job, Colin pointed to his spot on the assignment board for the week – mopping. When asked again, he added that he really enjoyed working at the cash register. Sawyer said Fulton loves computers, and with the cash register being like a computer, it’s a natural fit.

“The biggest thing is the interaction with others,” said Sawyer. “Compared to last year, in his responses … when asked a question, he was able to pull up an answer.

“I would say that’s huge for him and his communication skills.”

The goal for students from the coffee shop program is to get to Boyd’s classroom. The goal once those students are in his classroom is to find them jobs. That is the part with which Boyd is struggling.

“Three years in a row now – it’s due to the economy,” Boyd said. “The business isn’t there, or the entrance-level positions are being taken by other people. People are doing more for the same amount of money.”

The employers include MGA Enterprises, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Chocolate Expressions, Dairy Queen, Culver’s, Gooseberries, Sentry and the Burlington Area School District. Boyd is hoping with more exposure, more businesses will join in.

“I would like to see people helping out the community by letting these students come in and giving them a chance to add to their workplace,” Boyd said. “I think (the students) help out the employer and the employer gets a little bit from them.

“There’s a win-win situation.”

For more information, people can contact Boyd at (262) 763-0200, ext. 3401.