By KRYS MERRYMAN, The Greenville News
GREENVILLE, SC (AP) – Schools in Greenville County have announced a “unique” partnership between its food and nutrition services and special education departments.
Pupils in special education have the opportunity to obtain their culinary employability diplomas and their training in a business enterprise in a school environment. The first group of students started in the state-of-the-art kitchen at Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville.
The students started training last week at the start of the program and the students have already learned basic food safety and hygiene procedures, working with recipes, mixing ingredients and even had the chance to harvest fresh green beans and squash from the Living History Farm.
The partnership will serve as a national model for preparing students for success in the workplace, according to Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services. Although the program does not lead to any specific employment, it gives students in special education the opportunity to acquire the professional skills necessary to acquire paid employment.
Joe Urban Greenville County Schools, director of food and nutrition services, said discussions to kick off the program took place after the new sustainability building opened at the Roper Mountain Science Center. He said they learned the building will have a kitchen so that students have the option of having hot lunches on field trips.
The conversation then began with the special education department and board members for the opportunity to help these students gain credibility through the skills of the workforce, Urban said. The program has six to nine students participating at a time, he added.
In order for students to earn the employability degree, they must complete 360 hours of work and they will count those hours as part of that, according to Traci Hogan, deputy superintendent of special education services. At the end of the nine-week program, they may have another job at Roper Mountain, their school, or another location with a community partner.
“It really depends on their interest and what’s available,” Hogan added. “This particular program is still in its infancy, but it is unique in that it is a district facility designed with three goals. The training of our own disabled students was one of three.
The other goal, besides providing on-site meals to students during field trips, is for food and nutrition services to “test” foods and prepare catering-type orders, Hogan said. The Roper Mountain Science Center can be rented, and schools and programs can order food to prepare for meetings, events, etc.
Hogan said one of the special education department’s hashtags was #makingconnections.
“Over the years, we have worked a lot on the connection between general education and special education in order to maximize our work and results for students,” Hogan said. “We are also working to connect with families, teachers and students across the district, and of course the community and businesses. So this led us to name the kitchen Connections Café.
Amanda Drew, kitchen manager at Roper Mountain Science Center, said the program has received a lot of positive feedback from parents.
“Parents tell us that students value the independence they learn and enjoy being part of a team, working side by side,” said Drew. “They love to be standing and moving all day rather than sitting in a classroom. We are really proud of these students.
COFFEE CONNECTIONS DIFFERENT FROM “JUST GO TO SCHOOL”
Jada Huckabee, 19, a special education student and program participant, said she was not 100% convinced by her work in the culinary arts, but wanted to “put her foot in the door to see how was the program. I appreciate it, ”she said.
“My favorite part about working here is feeling like an adult,” said Gary Williams, a 19-year-old special education student and program participant. “It’s different going to school and I like having more responsibility.”
Logan Sham, 19, a special education student and program participant, said he enjoys working with recipes and learning to be safe in the kitchen.
Drew added that all students are currently enrolled in Greenville County high schools for class credits and that there is no additional cost for students in the program.
Lauren Couchois, a culinary specialist in food and nutrition services for Greenville County schools, said those students had never had a job or been taken away from their parents except to go to school. She spoke of a student who “absolutely thrived” because of the program.
“It was amazing and touching to watch. They start by being shy and then they start to come out more of their shells, ”Couchois added.
“There was definitely a need, a love, a desire to help special education, focusing and working on the credentials to get hired into the workforce once they left the school district. Said Couchois. “It’s important to show everyone in the workforce that these students can be hired.
CREATE A PATH TO JOB
Greenville County School Board member Chuck Saylors and Hogan were involved in the early stages of launching these types of programs into the school system.
About five years ago, Saylors and Hogan were part of a training group and were brainstorming creative ways to improve public education in the state, Saylors said.
“We decided to take the group project a step further and talked about special education and employability,” Saylors added. For example, he said, even though one of his children with special needs was an A-level student, he would have had to take his GED to get employment degrees, which is extremely difficult.
Saylors said Hogan was talking about a program at a technical school in Horry County that grants class credits for employability, so special education students have career options and can get jobs that match their abilities. , such as a nursing assistant or someone who works in the culinary arts.
The couple then took their idea of employment skills to the state legislature to make it law, unlike professional degrees, students would have more options and skills to eventually get paid jobs, a said Saylors. The special education department chooses which students are able to follow such a program.
“We got a grant and put a school business in every high school in Greenville County, basically students learning to run a small business,” Saylors continued.
“They have so much to offer the Greenville community and are definitely an example of how we are working to make a better graduate,” added Hogan.
“I am very proud of the programs, which are a perfect example of what can be done to give our students with special needs the opportunity to obtain paid employment with benefits. It took my son a long time to do it. If he had been able to take this type of program while he was in school, he could have been more productive. It’s a win-win for everyone. Hope this becomes a national best practice for all students to have this kind of opportunity.
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