Transition students, businesses work together

Transition students, businesses work together
Posted on 11/22/2019
Wednesday morning, a team of four students from the Tahoma Student Transition Program arrived at Safeway to report for work. The 18- to 21-year-old students paired up and tackled a large shopping basket full of “go-backs,” or items that customers decided they didn’t want at the registers.

On any given day, other groups of students from the program work or volunteer at Grocery Outlet, the Greater Maple Valley Community Center, the FFA farm at Maple View Middle School, Johnson’s, Walgreens, Elk Run Farm, and the Lake Wilderness Arboretum. One student also has a paid job with Trillium, and two have internships with Skills Inc.

At Safeway, Hanna White and Isaiah Shorter have been working together for some time and have a fun, cooperative rapport. Although Shorter knows where most items are, the two take turns leading the way and letting White lead the way through the store.

While in the dairy section, White holds up the next item, a box of granola bars.

“Hanna, do you know which aisle?” Shorter asks.

“Aisle 5! I got it right here,” White replies, tapping the side of her head.

On occasion, an item stumps them both, but they don’t give up. Instead, they walk to a new aisle and begin searching for the correct placement.

The definition of Conscientious Worker states “Students are trustworthy, dependable and effectively interact with others to get work done. Students take responsibility for results and demonstrate a strong work ethic.” Those qualities are a great description of what the Transition students are working toward and displaying on the job at Safeway.

Job coach and paraeducator Beverly Attix drives the group to Safeway and other job sites, and talks with them about maintaining a professional voice level, parking carts to one side of the aisle so that customers can pass by easily, how to “face” or arrange products neatly on the shelves and other tips.

“I absolutely think this program is awesome,” Attix said. “These kids come out at the end of the three years ready to work.”

As she, Shorter and White turn the corner of another aisle, they find a cart that has been left abandoned for more than an hour since their arrival. The team decides to add it to their tasks for the morning, and return the items in the cart to their proper locations throughout the store.

In general, the Transition program helps students learn job skills, social skills and life skills such as cooking, shopping, cleaning and budgeting. They talk about things such as recycling, loading a dishwasher properly, doing their own laundry, healthy eating and more. On some days, the group takes outings to restaurants and practices how to order properly, and how to tip. During many afternoons, students work on projects at training tables, such as sorting and bagging items, bundling silverware, folding T-shirts, hanging tools or, on one recent afternoon, creating tiny crafted turkeys that will sit on the table during a Thanksgiving meal the students are learning how to plan, cook and eat together.

“The Transition team of: Special Education teachers, para-educators (job coaches and one-to-one para-educators), Behavior Technician, Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapist work cooperatively to develop conscientious workers who can demonstrate a strong work ethic,” said Laurie Olson-Pennington, the lead instructor, who is in her first year with Tahoma. She has been a special education teacher for 35 years and worked in similar programs in Tacoma and Enumclaw. “Students have the opportunity to learn job skills in real life work settings, develop leisure skills in community settings and learn activities of daily living in an apartment-like setting.”
Shorter, who is in his second year in the program, gestured at his fellow students, teachers and classroom, and said, “This is a great place!”
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