South Side Occupational Academy puts a unique twist on special education. Catering to disabled high school students ranging from ages 16-21, the academy currently has an enrollment of over 200 students. The school’s mission is to provide an instructional program that will enable students to master non-school environments and participate in the life and work of their communities.
In order to give students hands-on experience in the workplace, South Side Occupational Academy teamed up with supermarket chain Jewel-Osco to establish a career laboratory that prepares students to work in retail food service. Industry standards guide instruction in the lab, allowing students to learn workplace skills that translate directly to real world job opportunities.
This lab is the first of its kind in the Chicago area, as Jewel-Osco made the store as life like as possible. Incorporating all the amenities like food aisles, cash register and even a staff break room, students get a feel for what it is like to work in a grocery store. Also, staff members guide the students through the entire employment process, beginning with filling out an application, to learning about the interview process.
The goal is to place 12 students in Jewel-Osco stores in the surrounding community during the 2012-2013 school year for work study learning. Not only are the students learning how to work at a grocery store, but they are also learning how to shop and use math skills.
Principal Long at South Side Occupational Academy says that his hope is after graduation students will be employed at a grocery store thanks to the skills they were able to learn through the Jewel-Osco lab.
“Our goal is to create a number of industry pathways for our students to follow while completing their education at Southside Occupational Academy,” Long said. “We have found that it is difficult for our students to gain employment in a traditional manner. Our successes have come from the preparation of students through the education they are provided and then pairing with agencies who provide job coaching once the students have graduated.”
The Academy is currently looking to expand the options for students, possibly with industry partners to build contextualized environments similar to the Jewel lab and to fill each of their classrooms. Labs like the one at South Side Occupational Academy provide a valuable service to the special needs community, and also illustrate the wide variety of opportunities the District offers to all students.
Learn more about South Side Occupational Academy