Students with autism at Foothill High School recently were given a chance to gain job skills by working in various departments at the city of Henderson through the pilot Work Experience Program.
The partnership was designed to give students with special needs a safe working environment so they can learn tasks that are required in employment.
“Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t do a job,” said Rae McAnlis, a special education instructional facilitator with Foothill High School. “So many jobs can be filled with people who have disabilities.”
McAnlis said the transition from the school environment to the workforce is a huge component of students’ lives.
“Everyone is entitled to the chance to be as independent as possible,” McAnlis said.
The idea initially came from Laura Nelson, a city employee who has a son with autism. Her son would help out around the office, giving Nelson the idea for a program offering work experience to other students with autism.
At Nelson’s prompting, McAnlis and Sheila Dugan, the compensation and administration manager in the city’s human resource department, came together to coordinate the program.
“Without the city, this would have never gotten off the ground,” McAnlis said.
Dugan brought the idea to the city’s executive team meeting, during which several directors came forward and said they would have room in their departments for students.
Departments ranged from the animal shelter and Henderson Municipal Court to the fire department and graphics department.
McAnlis selected six students. She made sure the students who were chosen didn’t have any behavioral issues such as violence or aggression.
“Some of (the students) can work more independently,” McAnlis said.
Every Wednesday, the students and an adult supervisor worked at their selected job.
City employees guided the youngsters in their tasks, helped them learn to follow instructions, taught them about dressing appropriately for employment and gave them the necessary tools to complete the responsibilities they were given.
Part of the learning experience included participants taking the bus to go to work.
Dugan said the partnership was a success.
“It was a good experience for our staff and the students,” Dugan said. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. The students did a lot of great work.”
McAnlis said the situation is a win-win for everyone.
“Everyone got to expand their horizons,” McAnlis said.
The program began around March, giving the students nine weeks of work experience. Officials hope to resume it at the start of the school year.
In addition to offering the same students a chance to work again, McAnlis hopes to have other students, some with other learning disabilities, participate.
Dugan is considering reaching out to other high schools.
“We are looking at other high schools that have a strong special education program,” Dugan said.
McAnlis also wants to look into expanding to other city sectors, such as the Downtown Senior Center, 27 E. Texas Ave.
“I think the students can learn a lot from (the seniors),” McAnlis said.
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-5201.