Student Ysaia Torres And Dana Bloom play a game of cards with teacher aides, Mrs. Cortez-Ameen, Mrs. Valdez, and Mr. Rodriguez in Ms. Tanner's class. At the end of the school day, students often participate in group activities. Photo by Katherine Valderrama

Student Ysaia Torres And Dana Bloom play a game of cards with teacher aides, Mrs. Cortez-Ameen, Mrs. Valdez, and Mr. Rodriguez in Ms. Tanner’s class. At the end of the school day, students often participate in group activities. Photo by Katherine Valderrama

Veronica Macias

STAFF WRITER

@vmCrusader

The Special-Ed Program is opening doors for students with disabilities. The Special-Education program at Bonita Vista High has many purposes for students with disabilities. The program starts in freshman year and continues through senior year until the semester that the student turns 22. After senior year, students participate in a transition program where they work in the community and learn to use public transportation.

“Each of them will have to pick an activity and they have to navigate how they’re getting there: by the bus, by trolley, by whatever. They are learning how to be an adult,” Special-Education teacher Charleen Love said.

According to Special-Education teacher Lisa Acosta, the school is paid through a grant: WorkAbility I. Due to having only a certain amount of money, only the older students that have been in the transition program for at least one year, have the opportunity to enter paid jobs. However, they are only paid for 100 work hours in a year. The younger group, students in their first year of transition, participate in volunteer work instead and work on skills they will need later in the future. In order for them to work later at minimum wage, they have to meet certain criteria, such as entering an “exploratory” stage, in which they look for different non-paying jobs.

“[The younger group] learns about job skills, communication and socially appropriate behavior: how to act in a workplace, how to keep personal space, how to interact with the public,” Special-Education teacher Cynthia Garwood said.

On the other hand, the older group participates in a variety of jobs, such as working at CVS Pharmacy, retail stores like Marshalls and at Crunch gym. They work places such as these to have clearer idea of where and what type of job they would like to have in the future. Students in the transition program attend a regional center, which oversees services for students with Individualized Education Program. Each student has a social worker who communicates with the students’ teacher and parents to find a job program that fits the specific needs of each Special-Ed individual.

“My favorite part about working at CVS is that I get to help people there and I just enjoy doing work there,” 20-year-old Savannah Durazo said.

While working at CVS, 18-year-old Lisco Scott and Durazo stock, organize and pull all the items forward on shelves so they all look the same. When working at Marshalls, they can be seen stacking and sorting out clothes. They attend their jobs two to three times a week and are taught how to manage the money they earn by having bank accounts and learning to use an ATM. Students get paid per month through Social Supplementary Income, a program directed toward students with disabilities. They can apply for SSI when they are 18 and meet certain criteria, such as the ability to independently work and support themselves.

“They would use that kind of money [that they get from SSI] to buy things that would also go towards housing and just planning a life. That’s how they learn to manage money, grocery shop and buy clothing,” Garwood said.

The transition program prepares students such as Scott and Durazo to participate in working jobs.

“I think that both [Scott and Durazo] can get entry level positions out in the community. Both of them are extremely hard workers. I believe both of them will be able to have jobs, definitely,” Acosta said.

Special-Education students that are still in high school are taught social skills rather than work skills. These techniques they are taught benefit them when going out into the community by themselves.

“The circles program that we teach kids: who it’s okay to hug, who it’s okay to be friends with, they have the ‘purple private space,’ the ‘big hug circle,’ ‘the handshake,’ who you wave to. They learn social relationships so that they don’t run up and hug people or walk off with a stranger because they think that they’re their friend. We have to teach social boundaries,” Garwood said.

Each Special-Ed individual is given the opportunity to secure their future by preparing themselves for life as an adult. The transition program essentially builds awareness about the types of challenges that may face them after high school.

“What we are trying to do is have them develop a bunch of different skills while they are here so when they go out in the work force, they’re set: they have the ability to communicate,” Garwood said. “That is the goal, so they can be the best adult that they can be.”