Career program helps special-needs students

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By Dwane Wilder

Teachers in Roane County’s Work-based Learning for Special Needs Students program held an appreciation luncheon on Oct. 10 at Roane County High School for people who supported their effort.


That includes staff at several businesses, churches and at least one school.

During the unique program, students in special education programs in Roane County schools are able to map out a career path and hunt for a job.

Once they secure employment from one of the sponsors, they

Students receive no pay, but they benefit from the on-the-job training.

“It’s something they can put on a résumé,” said Stephanie Walker, special education supervisor for Roane County Schools.

The school system began the program three years ago with the pilot project at Roane County High.

A year later, Harriman High School students began participating. Oliver Springs High School is participating this year.

Plans are to soon incorporate Rockwood and Midway into the program.

“Our goal is, in five years, to have work-based learning at all county high schools,” Walker said. “Reports say that if a student has a job before they leave high school, they’re more likely to keep them.”

Students spend the first nine weeks of the school year searching and preparing for a job.

The second nine weeks, they begin working and may get to do several different jobs before they finish the school year.

“We want them to get a variety of skills,” Walker said.

Aaron Miller, a senior at Roane County High, said he enjoyed being a part of the program. He worked at Goodwill, Ace Hardware and Kroger.

When students return from fall break next week, Miller will begin a new temporary job at Oran’s Florist.

“I really did like all the jobs,” he said. “I worked hard.”

Participants who have employed special-needs students the past couple of years include Oran’s Florist, Holiday Inn/Comfort Inn, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Roane County Animal Shelter, Big Lots, Goodwill, Kroger, Bowers Elementary, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, Kingston First Baptist Church, BBB Communications and the Elder Care program of Oak Ridge.

Teachers in Roane County’s Work-based Learning for Special Needs Students program include Connie Guinn of Roane County High, Andrea Anderson of Harriman High, Mike Neal of Oliver Springs High and Penny Woody, transition coach for Roane County schools.

“We’ve got excellent teachers. That’s what makes the program go,” Walker said.