Greenville schools prepare special education students for workforce

Greenville County Schools announced a “unique” partnership between its food and nutrition services and special schools.

Schoolchildren in special education have the opportunity to graduate in culinary employability and in school business administration. The first group of students started in the state-of-the-art kitchen facility at Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville.

Students started training last week when the program started, and students have already learned basic food safety and hygiene practices, worked with recipes, mixed ingredients, and even had the opportunity to harvest fresh green beans and pumpkins from the Living History Farm .

The partnership will serve as a national model for preparing students for success in the workplace, according to Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services. While the program does not lead to a specific position, it does offer special education students the opportunity to acquire the professional skills necessary to acquire jobs with living wages.

Joe Urban Greenville County Schools Director of Food and Nutritions Services said discussions to launch the program took place after the new sustainability building opened at Roper Mountain Science Center. He said they learned that the building would have a kitchen so students could get hot lunches on field trips.

The conversation then started with the special education department and board members to help these students recognize their skills for workforce, Urban said. Six to nine students are enrolled in the program at a time, he added.

Gary Williams (center) and Jada Huckabee (right) help mix an apple pie mix while Amanda Drew oversees the Greenville County Schools culinary training program for special needs students in the kitchen of the Roper Mountain Science Center on Friday, August 20, 2021 .

In order for students to earn the proficiency certificate, they must complete 360 ​​hours of work and those hours are recorded as part of that, according to Traci Hogan, assistant superintendent for special needs services. By the end of the nine week program, they may have another job at Roper Mountain, at their school, or elsewhere with a community partner.

“It really depends on their interest and what’s available,” added Hogan. “This particular program is still in its early stages, but is unique in that it is a district facility designed with three purposes. The education of our own students with disabilities was one of three.”

The other purpose besides providing meals to the local students during the field trips is to have the food and nutrition services “test” food and prepare catering orders, Hogan said. The Roper Mountain Science Center is available for rent, and schools and programs can order food prepared for meetings, events, etc.

Hogan said one of the hashtags for special education was #makingconnections.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of general and special ed connections to maximize our work and results for the students,” said Hogan. “We’re also working to connect with families, teachers and students across the district and of course with communities and businesses. That is what prompted us to name the Kitchen Connections Café. “

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Amanda Drew, kitchen manager at Roper Mountain Science Center, said the program had received a lot of positive feedback from parents.

“Parents tell us that students enjoy the independence they learn and enjoy being part of a team and working side by side,” said Drew. “They love to be on their feet and move around all day instead of sitting in a classroom. We are really proud of these students. “

Connections Cafe different from “just going to school”

Special education student and program participant Jada Huckabee, 19, said she wasn’t 100% convinced that she was in the culinary arts but wanted to “step in the door to see how the program was. I’m enjoying it,” she said.

Angela Tamayo, right, teaches Nicky Caputo how to make cheeseburgers during a Greenville County Schools culinary program for students with special needs in the kitchen of the Roper Mountain Science Center on Friday, August 20, 2021.

“My favorite thing about work here is feeling an adult,” said 19-year-old special needs educator and program participant Gary Williams. “It’s different from just going to school and I like being more responsible.”

Logan Sham, 19, a special education student and program participant, said he enjoys working with recipes and learning how to be safe in the kitchen.

Drew added that all students are currently enrolled in Greenville County’s high schools for grade credit and there are no additional costs for students on the program.

Lauren Couchois, culinary specialist for Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services, said these students never had a job or went from their parents to anything other than school. She spoke of a student who had already “thrived” on the program.

“It was amazing and touching to watch. They start to be shy and then they start to get more out of their shell,” added Couchois.

Gary Williams, center, pours a mixture into a bowl while Logan Sham mixes it in a bowl during a Greenville County Schools culinary program for special needs students in the kitchen of the Roper Mountain Science Center on Friday, August 20, 2021 .

“There was definitely a need, a love, a desire to help special education focus and work on qualifications to join the workforce as soon as they leave the school district,” Couchois said. “It’s important to show everyone in the workforce that these students can be employed.”

Create a path into employment

Greenville County Schools board member Chuck Saylors and Hogan were involved in the early stages of introducing these types of programs into the school system.

About five years ago, Saylors and Hogan were in a training group together, pondering creative ways to improve public education in the state, Saylors said.

“We decided to take the group project a little further and talked about special needs education and employability,” added Saylors. For example, he said that even though one of his children with special needs was an A student, he should have taken his GED to get a certificate of employment, which is extremely difficult.

Saylors said Hogan is talking about a program at a technical school in Horry County that gives class credits for employability so that special needs students can have career opportunities and get a skill-appropriate job like a nursing assistant or someone who works in culinary arts.

Jada Huckabee, Nicky Caputo, and Logan Sham put groceries in the refrigerator in the kitchen of the Roper Mountain Science Center during a Greenville County Schools culinary program for students with special needs on Friday, August 20, 2021.

The two then took their idea of ​​employability certificates to state law to make it law. The Special Education Department selects which students are able to take such a program.

“We’ve secured a grant and set up a school-based business in every high school in Greenville County, essentially the students are learning how to run a small business,” continued Saylors.

“They have so much to offer the Greenville community and are definitely an example of how we’re working to build a better graduate,” added Hogan.

“I take great pride in the programs, which are a perfect example of what can be done to enable our students with special needs to get a living, social benefit job. It took my son a long time to manage that he could have had this type of program in school, he could have been more productive. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. I hope this becomes a national best practice for all students to have this type of opportunity. “

Education and Family Reporter Krys Merryman can be reached at 864.420.7111 or kmerryman@greenvillenews.com. Continue the conversation or join a new one on our Greenville Education and Family Affairs Facebook page.

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