March 17, 2017

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WCS InFocus

High school senior Maddie Wolfe and junior Seth Jackson were bolstering their portfolios at Tazikis on March 14 learning the tricks of the trade and helping out with the day-to-day duties that go along with working in a restaurant.

The two Brentwood High students are working towards their occupational diploma, one of three diploma options for students with disabilities.

It has a strong focus on vocational/career outcomes where completion of stringent employability skills training is of the utmost importance.

“It’s the smart thing to do for students who aren’t going to go on to college and are just going to go right into a job,” said WCS Transition Coach Marie Wicks. “This is a really good opportunity for them to have something above and beyond a special education diploma.”

The program provides a structured opportunity for students to obtain instruction and skills required to earn a wage, live as independently as possible, engage with peers socially and be productive tax-paying citizens. Occupational diploma candidates have two years of work experience with their coursework profiled in a portfolio for future employers to view upon graduation.

“I love getting the job experience and seeing how a restaurant operates behind the scenes,” Jackson said. “I like seeing how they operate on an everyday basis and seeing how busy it gets at meal times.”

The restaurant is also a good place to make friends.

“It’s a really good experience,” Wolfe said. “I love working with the people. They are so amazing to socialize with.”

And the owners and employees really seem to enjoy the experience as well

“I think our staff gets more from it than they do,” said Tazikis owner Dale Wasem. “When they hit the store, whether it’s morning or afternoon or whatever it might be, everybody’s attitude changes. You start to think a little bit more like a human being than just doing a job you want to hurry up and get done.”

The occupational diploma program currently has 27 seniors who will earn a diploma this year and 50 juniors enrolled and on their way to earning one next year.

Those students are learning quickly and adapting well thanks to teachers like WCS Student Support Services Department Chair and BHS Transition Teacher Teresa Ashcraft.

“One of my primary goals is to get my students where they want to be after high school,” Ashcraft said. “If they are going toward employment, then I want to help them be as prepared for that as I can. I try to help them understand not only what employers expect, but to help them identify their strengths that contribute to that and work on the weakness areas so we can present them to employers and businesses as great employees.”

In order to receive an occupational diploma, students must meet a number of requirements including the completion of two years of paid or non-paid work experience. Students who obtain an occupational diploma may continue to work towards the regular high school diploma through the end of the school year in which they turn 22-years-old.