Work Ready


Clarion photo Alex Cheriel

Michelle and Abby sort and clean a recycling bin as members of the band prepare for the Winter Music Assembly.

By Alex Cheriel, Reporter

Students in Elizabeth DuBois’ special education classroom spend their Tuesday and Thursday afternoons gaining valuable work experience around the Cleveland campus and in the local community. Her students experience intellectual disabilities, but with support and work experience, they stand a good chance of earning paid employment as adults.

To prepare students for work, DuBois and the three paraeducators who work in room 263 try to make the experience as realistic as possible. At the beginning of the school year, students fill out an application, are interviewed by their teachers, and then placed in an appropriate position. “When they graduate, they’ll have a resume with four jobs,” said DuBois. The students fill out time cards recording their hours worked, much like a regular job.

On Tuesday afternoons, the students volunteer at three local non-profit organizations, and on Thursday afternoons, they can be seen performing a variety of helpful tasks around the school. All of the students’ jobs are based on real-world jobs.

Several students are part of the recycling crew. Their tasks include breaking down boxes in the school kitchen, emptying and cleaning recycling bins, and sorting cans from paper. Members of this team include Lewis, Abby, Michelle, Natasha, and Tony. Each student was thoroughly enjoying their work. “I like it because I’m helping the community out,” said Lewis.

Several more students spend their Thursday afternoons working in the bookroom. They are in charge of shelving textbooks and stacking paper for use in the large copy machine. Members of this team include Jaelon, Malia, Sean, and Asher. Their hard work is appreciated by Karen Dean, bookroom clerk. “They are great, consistent helpers,” she said.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1990, requires that students with disabilities take part in work experience programs during high school. Upon graduation, they continue to receive vocational training and job readiness support through the Portland Public Schools Community Transition Program.

Any high school graduate with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) may access courses through PPS Community Transition. Courses offered include work skills, health and daily living, renter education, and literacy. Upon reaching the age of 21, participants are eligible to file an application with the State of Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, which connects disabled persons with employers.

DuBois has a cousin with Down Syndrome. “My aunt was a strong advocate for him and he had a very full life. He is now in his fifties and speaks about the importance of fitness for people with Down Syndrome,” she said.

DuBois has devoted her career to working with people with disabilities. At first, she worked in the adult support system, helping participants in residential, recreational, and vocational settings. Eventually, she returned to school to earn a Master’s Degree in Special Education, and has been teaching for 23 years.

All of this experience has made DuBois passionate about preparing her students to make the best use of services available to them as adults. “There is such a good system that includes work, leisure and community activities,” she said. However, jobs available for people with disabilities are still competitive.

“I like my students to be work ready,” she said. “I know the adults with disabilities who are successful getting and keeping paid jobs have work training prior to looking for a paid job.”