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Program Offers Vocational Training In Community: Special Needs Students Can Learn Skills on the Job.

GROVE CITY, Pa. (AP) -- Gretta Brundage takes her job at Hoss's Steak and Sea House very seriously.

The 20-year-old Wilmington Area School District student knows there are certain tasks she has to accomplish before the doors open and hungry patrons make their way through the salad bar.

So, she doesn't want to take too much time to talk. There is work to be done.

Gretta is one of the students placed by the Midwestern Intermediate IV, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and a connection that helps schools meet the needs of students with special challenges. The program introduces students to the world of work, allowing them to develop the skills they need to succeed once they leave school.

Gretta is one of only a few students participating in the program from the area this year. Next year, and in future years, Melissa Hogue, special education teacher for the Pre-Employment Transition Service/Community Based Vocational Training program, hopes to see many more students get the chance to learn skills they can use on the job.

For Gretta, that means staying on task, communicating when she doesn't understand an instruction and following directions.

She has been working since September.

"I like it all," she said about her job doing the bread pudding, fruit crisps and salads. She also does back-ups for the salad bar on Mondays.

She is experienced. "I have worked in a lot of food service," she said. "It is not that hard. I ask a lot of questions, and then I am quiet and do my work."

In her spare time, Gretta rides horses and volunteers at two horse barns.

And, she shears alpacas. "I am into the animal field," she said.

And that is the idea of the Community-Based Vocational Training, Hogue said, to give the students a glimpse into possibilities for their futures.

"We give the students the opportunity to try different kinds of jobs, to see what they like, and what they don't like," Hogue said.

New funding options and other changes in the Department of Education have made it possible for the CBVT unit to offer its service more affordably for local school districts. So while not that many students are involved this school year, next year, there will be many more in the Intermediate Unit's programs.

"We have 25-30 students signed up across the three counties that we serve," Hogue said.

And she said the program is looking for more schools to submit names of students who would benefit from the training.

And community partners are welcome as well, she added.

"At first they are cautious, until they meet the students," Hogue said. "And then they realize that they are just like anyone else."

There are some rules--the work experience is unpaid and is only a few hours a week. And the age of the student determines what he or she can do.

"They can stay through 21," Hogue said.

Gretta is accompanied by a teaching assistant, Sherrie Mazurek. Mazurek is there to make sure that Gretta is doing what needs to be done and that she understands what is being asked of her.

"She comes to me if she needs help," Mazurek said. "After every shift, we talk about what happened, any questions, anything like that."

Even though she is available to help the students early on, Mazurek does not do the job for the student. The intent of the program, Hogue said, is just the opposite.

"The goal for all of our students is to be as independent as possible," she said.

And for Gretta, her time at Hoss's has been very fruitful, Mazurek said.

She is applying for a summer position there.

"I am so excited for her," Mazurek said. "She is learning a lot of great social skills and how to interact with other people."

And that is the practice that Hogue hopes all the students who participate in the program will get.

"Most of what our students need are the soft skills," she said.

The relationship has not just been beneficial for Gretta.

Working with the program has allowed the steakhouse's owners, Bill and Nancy Campbell, the chance to give back to their community, a priority for them.

That's why the restaurant's manager, Missy Whetzel, says Hoss's is glad to be part of the program. Gretta, she said, is a great addition to the staff.

"Gretta is very focused," Whetzel said. "She knows the times and when she needs to have stuff done. I am thrilled with her."

Information from: The Herald,

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Author:Carey, Renee
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Jun 5, 2017
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