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Middle school students with disabilities get a jumpstart on life skills through WorkAbility

workability students learn life skills at local market

Whether they are operating their own soap business at Sunnyvale Middle School, maintaining the garden at Columbia Middle, or making their infamous K9 Crunchies dog biscuits at the Fremont Union High School District Office, Sunnyvale students with disabilities are building the vocational and social skills they need to be successful when they enter the workforce.

Through collaboration with neighboring districts and the community, the Sunnyvale School District is able to provide a continuum of support for our students with disabilities currently enrolled in our transition program. Transition services are designed to help our students adjust to life after they are no longer eligible for school-related services by providing them with the skills they need to be successful, such as future planning, self-advocacy, and independent living.

“It’s amazing, at the middle school level; it’s all about setting the groundwork for the additional exposure they will have in high school,” said Roxy Machuca, Transition Program Specialist with Fremont Union High School District.

Through transition services and the WorkAbility Program, SSD offers students training through vocational assessments, career awareness and exploration, pre-employment skills training and hands-on work site experience. While typically geared toward students ages 16 to 22, the Sunnyvale School District in collaboration with its partners in the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), is able to bring these experiences to our middle school students.

SSD coordinates with the SELPA II, which consists of the Fremont Union High School District, Cupertino Union School District, and the Santa Clara County Office of Education to provide a continuum of programs and services for disabled individuals from birth through 22 years of age.

“Having WorkAbility at the middle school level is not something that districts are required to have,” said Machuca. “By having these services at this level, we are able to go above and beyond what is required. We’re also fortunate to have grant funding which enables us to have much more robust services for our kids.”

Despite no increase in grant funding, the SELPA team has managed to grow the number of students entering the workforce from 24 in 2005-2006 to 70 in 2015-2016. Thanks to community supporters, students have gone on to acquire jobs at anywhere from Trader Joe’s and Smart & Final to TJ Maxx or the YMCA.

CMS teacher Rachel Pipes added Guadalajara Market owner David Prado has been an outstanding community member.

“Owner David Prado has worked to establish and maintain positive relationships with students and staff at Columbia Middle School,” Pipes said. “He demonstrates patience and respect by taking his time to greet each student and encouraging them to practice money skills when purchasing items and counting change. We are grateful for the opportunities that Guadalajara Market provides to our students to work on daily living skills and humbled by the kindness and support Mr. Prado provides our community.”