Archived Story

School special-needs program trains ‘work force ready’ students

Published 7:08pm Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Employees from HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology visited Bob Jones High School Sept. 29 to help a special-needs class extract DNA from strawberries, kiwis and peaches.

The activity was part of Charlene Sandford’s delayed development class study of cells.

“Our students are in school until they are 21, so we have longer to work with them,” Sandford said. “We are working with students that have Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other types of disabilities. It takes them a little longer to learn, so this program allows us to educate them while they work and have fun.”

Three students in the class work at HudsonAlpha preparing and packaging DNA kits. Their work with the company is part of a community-based work program the school initiated 12 years ago. The program sends students with developmental problems to local businesses for six weeks, where they train and become work force ready once they exit Bob Jones.

“Our goal is to get students exposed to the community and let everyone know that we are here and employable,” Sandford said. “We have them train at certain jobs, so when they graduate high school, they’ll already have that experience.”

Sandford said the program gives each student well-rounded training experience.

Other employers such as the Westin Hotel, PESA manufacturing, the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and Domino’s Pizza also employ students from the program. The school pairs each student with a job skill of their choice. Sandford said some students prefer clerical work while others prefer to work outside.

Three male students in the class currently work for PESA, a company that designs and produces routing switching systems.

“It’s all about careers and teaching the students that they can be productive,” Sandford said. “I am definitely proud of them all. They go out and give a 100 percent every time.”

Bob Lipinski, with the Madison City School System, is responsible for finding companies to employ students. He said it’s great to have businesses and organizations in the area that are willing to provide training opportunities for students who are “far end” special education.

“Not only do the kids get the work done, they do it with a smile,” Lipinksi said. “They learn work etiquette skills and overall how to function in the work environment.”

Funding comes from special education funds through the Individuals with Disabilities Act, along with some funds on the state and local levels.

Katy Weaver is one of the students in the class and participants in the program. Her job at HudsonAlpha entails mixing different types of solutions.

Come Friday night, Katy will be the first special-needs student in Bob Jones history to be on homecoming court.

“It’s a complete honor, I feel very special,” Weaver said. “It if weren’t for my friends, cheerleading squad and Bob Jones students, I wouldn’t be on it, of course.”

Weaver is also an honorary cheerleader and assistant coach. She “lives and breathes” cheerleading and even knows all the routines.

“The football games are one of my favorite parts of the school year because it’s the clash of the titans with Sparkman,” she said.

Weaver will sing the national anthem at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.

Sandford said Weaver is a “unique and very special” student who is a proven example that as long as one dreams big, they can accomplish anything.

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