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Special Needs Students Learn Job Skills and Independence
Posted On:
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
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Courtesy of Elk Valley Times

by Sandy Williams

Fayetteville City School students with disabilities are learning independence and real-world job skills through a new program that simulates a work environment.

The Practical Assessment Exploratory System (PAES) lab was developed at Fayetteville Middle School this year thanks to a $36,000 grant designed to help students gain experience and knowledge in a wide array of jobs in order to transition from school into adulthood. The lab provides students with the instructions and equipment to complete a variety of job tasks, everything from filing, data entry and word processing to woodworking and assembly, cooking and custodial work.

“Independence is the main goal,” Susan Nix, special education teacher, said, explaining the benefits of the program. “It teaches them to think for themselves.”

The PAES lab allows teachers to develop data over time that helps determine a student’s strengths and interests. Once students near the end of their high school careers, teachers can pair students with job shadowing opportunities to help in the transition towards independence and employment – “Even if it’s volunteer work and not a paid job after graduation, it gives them purpose,” she said.

The lab mimics a real work environment – students clock in, find a file with job assignments, go to the work station and perform the task independently. And just like real life, students earn “pay” for their work. Each Friday, students receive a mock check with that week’s pay, visit the “bank” and cash the check.

John Pruett hammers a nail on a woodworking project, Jenny Roland clocks in for the day and Dajon Howard measures sugar for cooking in Fayetteville Middle School’s Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) lab. Students are learning real-world life and job skills in the new lab made possible by a grant secured by the school system. ~ Staff photos by Sandy Williams

“They earn money for everything they do – it’s not just given to them,” Nix explained, noting that the students may also be required to pay fines out of their paychecks for any behavioral infractions during the week. “It’s great motivation. We have a store so they save up for anything they want to buy.”

Even if students are unable to successfully complete a work task, they are still rewarded with a paycheck for trying – “The only pressure they have is to attempt the job,” Nix said.

While Nix has been using an approach similar to the PAES lab in years’ past, the $36,000 transition grant has allowed the school to develop an actual lab with the needed equipment – “It’s something I’ve always mimicked, but you can only mimic so much without the actual materials,” Nix said.

FMS Principal Steve Giffin credits Dr. Bridgette Jones with making the successful application for the grant.

“It’s very exciting and has already been very effective,” Giffin said.

“In just one month of school, they’re already so proud of the things they are doing,” Nix said. “They’re really rolling on this and have really taken to it. They’re getting to do things I don’t think they’ve ever had much of a chance to do before. They’re doing things they think are really cool, and they’re so excited about it.”

Nix is asking for the community’s support for the program. Donations of scrap pieces of wood, such as 2x4s and 1x4s, as well as nails and cooking supplies, are needed. Additionally, items for the mock store are needed. Anything from caps, T-shirts, gift cards, posters, movie passes and free ice cream coupons are all good ideas and items students are interested in purchasing with their pay, Nix said.

If you would like to donate to the program, contact Fayetteville Middle School at 438-2533 or stop by the school at 1800 Wilson Parkway.

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