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Specialized Schools prepare students for working life

Published February 13, 2023

To the question of how District 214 Specialized Schools prepare students for success, the short answer is: In too many ways to count or enumerate.

Among the more compelling, however, is the way in which the life program serves students from ages 18 to 22 with intellectual disabilities. Under the broader umbrella of District 214’s Specialized Schools, life’s goal is to equip these students to transition into working life at age 22.

“Our job is to assess where students’ skills and interests are, to develop goals and to give them experiences that will allow them to attain postsecondary employment,” explains Valerie Norris, Specialized Schools principal.

Through partnerships with community partners and prospective employers, District 214’s Vocational Lab is equipped to simulate actual workplace situations, from watering and caring for plants to organizing retail displays or operating laundry machines.

Then there is Forest Brew, a coffee shop at the Forest View Educational Center that is staffed by Specialized School students to serve District 214 employees. Forest Brew now features new, more sophisticated equipment, which lets students prepare the lattes and espressos they might serve in a commercial setting.

The Vocational Lab allows students to explore what field they are attracted to and then to extrapolate and develop the skills needed to be successful before they are gradually introduced into an actual workplace.

“Traditionally we know that people with intellectual disabilities lag far behind in having meaningful work,” says Jack O’Neal, associate principal for life and The Academy at Forest View Statistically. “Only around 30 to 35 percent of people with disabilities have employment. That’s not because they can’t work; it’s because they’re not working.
We’re flipping the script on that in transition programs in District 214, particularly the life program.”

Through the training offered in the Vocational Lab, some students will find paid work in coffee shops. Others in food or laundry services. Or mail sorting and delivery. Some in retail. Others in food service.