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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 program brings work experience to special ed students

Falcon School District 49 special education students have a new life skills program available to them, thanks to a partnership with local businesses.Linda Tegtmeier is the transition coordinator for the Elevates program, which has helped special education students gain life skills since the program’s inception in 2003. Elevates provides its students with work experience by partnering with local businesses, such as Safeway, Target, Ross Dress for Less, Party America and Jo-Ann Fabrics, Tegtmeier said. Under a contract approved by the Colorado Department of Labor, Elevates’ students age 18 to 21 work up to eight hours per week.Besides hands-on work experience, the students are taught skills needed for daily living. “We give tours of businesses and teach them how to ride the bus,” Tegtmeier said. “We teach them how to cook, garden – anything they will need to know in life.” Health and nutrition classes are taught as well, she said. The goal of the program is to help the students achieve employment and independence by age 21.Students prepare for entering the work force by writing resumes, going to local youth job fairs and learning social etiquette. “The work experience teaches them how to behave in a work setting,” Tegtmeier said. And it provides an opportunity for the students to determine their interests. “They can find out what they’re good at and what they like to do,” she added.A few students go to college, but most enter the work force after they graduate from the Elevates program. “Some of our students go on to work for the employers they worked for during the program,” Tegtmeier said.Jo-Ann Fabrics employee Mary Perkins, who works with the students every Tuesday, has taken a particular interest in the Elevates students. “I just love their eagerness to learn,” Perkins said. “They have an incredible work ethic. To me, there’s nothing better than watching their faces light up when they succeed.””I love working here,” said Elevates student Megan O’Brien. When she’s not at work, she said she enjoys making fairies out of the artificial flowers the store sells.After learning that many of the Elevates students enjoy crafts, Perkins initiated an arts and crafts class. “I wanted them to have fun and not just work,” she said. To pay for the supplies, Perkins organized a fundraiser where Jo-Ann Fabrics employees pay $1 per leg every Friday, if they want to wear jeans.”She really has a heart for the kids,” Tegtmeier said.”I want people to see what these kids can do, not what they can’t do,” Perkins said.

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