For decades, Enumclaw businesses and business owners have been helping Enumclaw High School special needs students get work experience before they transition into post-high school life.
And for the first time last week, Enumclaw’s Transition Program spent three days visiting more than two dozen businesses and school offices that participate in the program to show their thanks.
“The businesses and folks in Enumclaw have always stepped up. And I think we have the flagship of internship placement, I think for a small town, in the state,” said Rod Lobdell, the school’s transition coordinator. “It’s because the Enumclaw business community has just gone out of their way to allow places for our kids in their businesses.”
Under state law, any high schooler with special needs — whether they have a learning disability like dyslexia or ADHD or are cognitively or emotionally delayed — is required to have a transition plan for when the student leaves high school.
For some of the 150 or so special needs students the Enumclaw School District serves, they already have the skills and know-how to successfully leave high school and into the next phase of their lives.
But others, like Joseph Landon and Tanishq Hessenaur, need some help along the way.
That’s where Lobdell and the internship and work placement portion of the Transition Program comes in.
“It’s built so that students in support services can basically get plans toward transitioning into life after high school,” he said. “We deal with a lot of work experience and vocational internships, that’s kind of the core. And we also have internships and vocational internships at the school, in the district.”
According to Lobdell, the program helps out close to 50 kids every year, but the number fluctuates with incoming ninth-graders and graduating seniors, which includes students that stay with the program until they age out at 21.
“What tends to happen is they will go on beyond high school and pick up jobs because of their experiences that go on resumés. And then agencies will pick up our 18 – 21 kids, DDR and DDA will pick them up, and those kids will usually find work,” he said, referring to Developmental Disability Resources Inc. and the Development Disabilities Administration.
Lobdell believes part of the program’s success lies in teaching kids what he calls “soft skills.”
Soft skills, he said, are the opposite of knowing how to wait a table or solder and weld — it’s being able to show up on time, have a positive attitude toward work, staying productive, and being able to interact with other employees, managers and customers.
“They’re more of those vocational social skills that create success for all of us, and they tend to be the threshold of success. You get the soft skills down, and then employers tell us all the time, if a kid has strong soft skills, particularly their positivity and their productivity, they’re showing up on time and their good attitude at work, if they have those, workers will tell you, ‘We’ll train them hard skills. We’ll help them with the welding or with waiting tables,” Lobdell said.
When Landon first started the program, Lobdell said, he almost never looked people in the eye and hardly spoke.
But after a year of working at Grocery Outlet and now working at Enumclaw Recycling, his interpersonal communication skills have vastly improved.
“He’ll just talk your ear off,” Lobdell said. “And he takes his headphones out to have a conversation with you.”
Landon will be working with the King County School to Work Program next year before he ages out of the program.
Another reason Lobdell said the program was so successful is the lasting relationships the program forms with local businesses.
“What we have a three leveled system where we always want kids to earn their way and show their soft skills. That’s really critical,” he said. “This is why we have such strong relationships with the businesses. We don’t just send a kid out there. We make sure the kid has established work skills and soft skills before we venture out into the community.”
All kids who go through the program start out interning at the school district, either in elementary school programs, Thunder Mountain programs, at the Enumclaw Grounds Department, the district office, the Enumclaw Bus Garage, or the student store at the high school.
Work starts out as an hour a week internship during an elective period, then two hours a week as the students gain more skills.
When they’re ready, they then transition into one of the many business around Enumclaw for a two hours a week internship.
“If our kids do well, then sometimes the businesses will take them on weekend or part time. And if they do well, they’ll go on to being employed by them to differing degrees,” Lobdell said.
Hassenaur is one student who has moved through all three steps of the Transition Program to eventually be hired part-time by The Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center.
On Wednesdays, he said, he provides entertainment to the diners at the center, and on Saturdays, he helps run their bingo events.
“I’ve had a huge learning experience throughout the year,” he continued. “I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’ve worked closely with my boss. He’s been able to help me out in situations that I’ve struggled in. I think I’ve grown a large amount through the whole year.”
Hassenaur plans to continue working at the center through the summer until he starts school again at Highline Community College in the fall.
“After college, I hope to become an activities director, like my boss,” he said, referring to Mikey Allen at the Rehab Center.
Allen and the center has been working with the Transition Program for two years now, and also lets Hassenaur’s fellow student Bethany Helland intern there while employing Hassenaur.
“It’s been wonderful. It’s been a great experience,” Allen said. “You don’t really know what kind of experience everybody has, especially being in high school… We kind of guide them, but then they go off and do their thing. You give them a few little instructions and they just roll with it.
“It’s good for us and it’s good for them,” he added.
Other local businesses that partner with the Transition Program include The Dog Spaw, The Expo Center, Living Court, the Foothills Learning Center, Charlie’s Cafe, Work Sports &More, DP West, Enumclaw Motorsports, Clem’s Motorsport, Hill Aerosystems, the Bonney Lake/Maple Valley Goodwill, Nexus Youth and Family Services, Fred’s Towing, The Equine Project, Salon La Bell, and SKILLS Inc. Aerospace.