Chicago school partners with grocer to train students

May 5, 2011 9:59:22 AM PDT
A Chicago public high school has started a unique partnership with a local chain of grocery stores. It is giving students with disabilities onsite job training and independent living skills.

This is an ideal solution for students who need to prepare for life after high school.

At Southside Occupational Academy, the Jewel Lab was just installed in one of their classrooms.

"We have five classes going through with about 10 students in each class, so right now we have 50 students," said Joshua Long.

Long is the school's principal. They have 200 students, from ages 16 to 22, with developmental disabilities.

"At our school we provide beginning vocational training and then we bring them into a setting like this, they can get hands-on training," Long said. "And during their final year of school they actually go out to a Jewel grocery store and they get a work-study placement with assistance of one of our teachers."

Special education teacher Barbara Otis works on job training.

"We take them all the steps of the way," said Otis. "We go on the computer and we fill out the Jewel application. After, we go through the application we go through how to dress for interview, how to interview itself. We do a lot of role-playing. We take the students and we bring them and show them how to shop in the stores, how to do janitorial in the stores, any other skills that we need. That's what we do here at Southside."

Jewel-Osco community and government affairs manager Miguel Alba says they made it as real as possible.

"It's the first of its kind across the Chicagoland area," Alba said. "We've created a Jewel-Osco Laboratory to simulate a grocery store environment for the kids here who will be training to learn about the different aspects of, not only jobs, being a service clerk, but also learning how to shop, learning math skills, learning reading skills and other applications...We're going to be working closely with Principal Long and to find out and get data statistics, and the return on what we believe could be the beginning of other potential school labs."

"I do hope that some of our students will be able to be employed at Jewel," said Otis. "We are here working on skills so they can get out there."

"This is just the beginning," Long said. "We have 10 classrooms here and we are actively seeking industry partnerships to fill every classroom with a contextualized lab like this one you see here."

Principal Long also said that they focus more on food services and janitorial industry.

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