Students with learning disabilities have a better chance at finding jobs thanks to a school-to-work program at East Valley High School.
The program stumbled to a start last year. This semester, 11 students - from sophomores to seniors - have worked unpaid for about two hours per day at a variety of businesses.
Two of the jobs also have turned into career opportunities for graduating students. And the students’ enthusiasm in school has improved, mostly because of the time spent working.
“We try not to use it as a carrot,” said special education teacher Lori Merkel.
“But it is,” chimed in teacher Denise Fancher.
The students’ disabilities are not readily apparent. They might have trouble with social skills, comprehension or reading.
Pat Morris, 17, has been working at McCollum Ford for about three months. Before he began working, Merkel was concerned about his performance. His grades and confidence were dropping.
“I was losing him,” she said.
Morris went to work for McCollum and quickly established himself as someone with potential.
When managers at McCollum made it clear they wanted to hire Morris when he turned 18, “He came in with tears in his eyes and said, ‘They want me to stay. They like me,”’ Merkel said.
Morris’s grades rose, and his attitude changed.
Troy Campbell, 18, worked at Stafit East and might be offered a job at the health club’s new Post Falls center. He’s also helping to create a wrestling camp for boys.
“Troy was just wonderful to have around,” said Valerie Fremlin, a Stafit manager. “He was a real delight.”
East Valley’s program has had its downfalls. One student had to be removed from her job at a retirement center because of her behavior, Merkel said. The student’s work skills were fine, but she had conflicts with others.
It’s Merkel’s enthusiasm that made the program a reality. To attract businesses, she went door to door, asking employers to give her students a chance.
Most employers were hesitant when they heard the students had learning disabilities, but were more enthusiastic when they met them, Merkel said.
Two boys worked at Firestone, changing oil, repairing flat tires and doing maintenance tests. They did great, said Keith Trowbridge, the store’s manager.
“I didn’t know they had a learning disability,” he said.
xxxx Getting involved … Businesses interested in working with a learning disabled student should contact Lori Merkel at 927-3200.