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District 230 Foundation helps students gain work skills through grant

Calculating hours worked, stocking shelves, measuring items, and making change are all part of the real-life experiences learned by transition-aged special education students at Sandburg High School thanks in part to the District 230 Foundation We Grow…Up the Ladder of Success grant.

Last spring, Carl Sandburg Special Education teacher Kendra Jelcic applied for a teacher grant from the District 230 Foundation. She was awarded $4,850 to support students learn vocational skills and grow the school’s micro-businesses. 

Some of the experiences incorporated through the grant include clocking in and out -using a time clock purchased from the grant, new work uniforms -created by materials purchased from the grant, task boxes that simulate work experiences -materials purchased through the grant, and a school closet where students can purchase items of their choice with their "Sandburg Bucks" paycheck.

Jelcic said, “I am really proud of the skills, real-life experiences, and learning experiences the grant has allowed our students this year.”

Every two weeks, students bring their time sheets and calculate their work hours. Students know what skills they are working on and are “paid” by reaching milestones. There is ownership and drive to continue to work on these work-related skills. 

Some of the tasks include stocking shelves, checking expiration dates on products, measuring items, sorting items by likeness, working a cash register, making change, organizing mail, and more. 

Students work at job sites, including the Sandburg Barkery, a school micro business where students make dog treats and sell/deliver to staff, and the Steaming Eagle, a school coffee shop, where students sell and deliver coffee orders to staff.

The grant supports a motivation system for students in the work program to hone vocational skills and ultimately apply those skills at job sites in the community. Students earn rewards once they acquire different employability skills in a work environment, increasing students’ confidence before they transition independently into the workforce. 

The system is tailored to each student’s needs, ability level, and source of motivation. The first rung of the ladder focuses on basic work skills such as attendance, clocking in daily, and wearing their assigned uniform. The next rung may include greeting customers appropriately and performing assigned job tasks, and so on.

Workstations mimic work sites and allow a safe, controlled environment for students to practice new skills. Staff provide direct feedback and alternative strategies to help students learn these skills. Once students learn these new skills, they will be able to apply them in the school micro-businesses and community jobs. 

Jelcic noted that students can see what it is like to be an employee in the real world with the most authentic learning experience. It allows students to feel connected with their same-aged peers and to have the same opportunities as students in competitive employment. If the students have a positive work experience, they can interact with people within the community, break barriers, and help eliminate stereotypes that exist against students with disabilities.

“Students with special needs are phenomenal employees. They have great retention rates and are impactful members of their community,” she added.

We Grow…Up the Ladder of Success is just one of 10 grants awarded last spring by the Foundation totaling approximately $30,000. Other grants have supported social studies, art, foreign language, sports medicine, democracy, special services, science, literacy, college preparation, character development, international studies, environmental awareness, business, physical education, family and community connections, and more. Teacher grant applications reopen this month and will be awarded this spring.


We Grow - Steaming Eagle  We Grow - Barkery