This is the third year that Orleans/Niagara BOCES has run its job-coaching program. The program is the result of collaborative planning and is part of the transition services that are offered by the special education department at BOCES.
"The goal of the program is for each student to be as independent as possible through authentic work experiences that can be transferred to other settings," says Special Education Coordinator Dr. Frank Filicetti. "We started out studying what other BOCES do to prepare their students to go into the workforce after graduation. It was a very exciting idea for us and we ended up putting it together piecemeal from ideas we liked.
"For us, it was the next step beyond our life skills classes where they do community service as a group under supervision of the classroom staff. Now, students who are in the work-study internship program have the opportunity to go out individually twice a week for two hours a day. Here, they are supported by a job coach who models appropriate work behaviors and focuses on 'soft skills.' "
"Soft skills are such things like appropriate dress and grooming, communication skills, attitude, initiative, productivity, pride in a job well done, cooperation, problem solving, self advocacy and how to work independently," explains Ann Gillet, job coach coordinator.
Filicetti adds, "Our goal is that students can develop soft skills, which will increase success later in the world of work."
So far, about 15 students have taken part in the program and worked for such sites as: Absolut Care of Gasport, Barker Library, Budwey's of Newfane, DeGraff Hospital, Dunkin Donuts, Faery's Nursery, Orleans/Niagara BOCES, Gleam and Glimmer Stained Glass, Medina Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina Railroad Museum, North Tonawanda High School Library, North Tonawanda History Museum, Ray's Sanborn Pizza, Sigma International, Starpoint High School Cafeteria, Tops Markets, Tim Hortons, DeGraff Skills Nursing Facility and Gift Shop.
"They go to two different sites a year and we try to match them up to something they are interested in or what they think they might be interested in," Filicetti says. "We want to stress the students are unpaid and they are not taking jobs away from the staff. This is purely for the student to learn soft skills that get some work skills, and it does free up work site staff to get other things done."
Randy Seager has been working at Absolute Care in Gasport.
"I really like it there," he says. "The people are awesome. I do housekeeping and laundry, and I wash dishes in the kitchen."
"In the laundry, Randy must fold, weigh and count bedding and towels. Each piece has to be folded a certain way so it is easier for the aides to grab them quickly. Randy has gotten quite proficient with folding," says job coach Heidi Dorpfeld. "You should see him fold fitted sheets. He is very meticulous and the head of laundry has asked him to come back."
Zach Demler is currently working at Tops in Medina.
"I worked in the produce department and now I am in the dairy department and check the expiration dates on the cartons and packages," he says. "I take out the ones that have expired and put in new ones and rotate the stock. I really like it a lot."
Dorpfeld says the produce supervisor was so impressed with Demler's work ethic that the store requested he come back.
Demler has also worked at the Medina Railroad where he had a lot of fun.
"When Thomas the Train came that was great, because I got to help get ready for it and ride in one of the coaches," he says.
Nicolas Alexis has been helping out around Orleans/Niagara BOCES, working in its placement office and central printing.
"I have been getting a lot of great experience with doing clerical work and learning about scanning and editing in the printing office," he says. "I have really gotten to expand my knowledge."
Sue Nemec, Alexis' job coach, noted that he has gained a lot of confidence and has a strong work ethic.
Gillet notes, "We are very fortunate to have the generosity of our community partners who allow the students to come and train them to do different jobs.
"The kids are so excited about going to their jobs. Some of them have even thought about not attending field trips, prom or graduation, because they don't want to miss work and let anyone down. They take their work very seriously and are very dedicated.
"This has been a great experience for our students to learn work behaviors such as task completion and problem-solving. It has been wonderful for the students to get such positive feedback from the supervisors and the staff. We are really pleased at how well this partnership is going."