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SPECIAL ED STUDENTS GET WORK SKILLS ON-THE-JOB TRAINING GIVEN IN HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

AGOURA HILLS - Fourteen-year-old Kelly Roper carefully peeled a mailing label from a waxed-paper sheet, centered it on a blank envelope, then sat back in obvious satisfaction.

Clerical work viewed as mundane by many teens is a challenge for Kelly, a cheerful redhead who struggles with tasks that require dexterity. But thanks to a program taught by Rhonda Litt, Kelly and 10 other special- education students at Agoura Hills High School are learning to perform tasks that are a pathway to their independence.

``I feel good and proud when I finish,'' said Kelly, who loves to play volleyball and dance to music videos.

Litt's students do clerical work at the school and for local businesses at no charge. In 1999, the first year of the program, the teens prepared 10,000 summer camp brochures for mailing.

``These kids are eager to work - they love the responsibility,'' said Litt, whose students are afflicted with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disorders. ``It's important stuff they're doing, critical stuff for local merchants.''

The special-education students share physical education and some other classes with the rest of the student body. But during their daily sessions with Litt, they slip into working mode and they are expected to follow a plan.

``They're much more focused during this time,'' Litt said. ``They work on sharing space, not pushing, being helpful and working together. They learn to be neat and take pride in their work. It gives them self-esteem.''

The free service Litt and the students provide - and the superior job they do - has some businesses feeling as though they owe the students something more.

``It's an incredible trade-off. It almost leaves me feeling like I haven't done enough,'' said Lynn Pedroza, general manager at Cottontail Ranch, a popular sleep-away camp that used Litt's class for a mailing.

``For us it would be a mundane thing, but for these kids, they're doing a great service,'' Pedroza said. ``They did a fabulous job, and we're looking to give them more business.''

Litt sent out letters to local businesses explaining that her students were looking to help with everything from collating packets to painting furniture. Since September, a local dental office, bank and a bicycle club have employed her students.

Jason Archuleta, 18, graduated from the program and received his high school diploma in June. He now is a paid employee at Agoura High and credits Litt's program with teaching - and inspiring - him.

``It helped me to be on time and to work with other people,'' said Archuleta. ``Now I make copies and help out around school. And I coach cross-country and track.''

Eric Eychner, another 18-year-old, summed up what the work program means to him.

``I think it's nice. I like Miss Litt,'' said Eric, a top-notch bowler who has a best score of 245. ``I think it's important for me to learn how to do that stuff.''

For information about employing Litt's students, call Agoura High at (818) 889-1262.

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Shawn Afradi, foreground, and Clayton Perry prepare envelopes as part of an Agoura High Hills program that teaches clerical skills to special-education students.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 26, 2000
Words:531
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