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High School Students with Special Needs Gain Work Experience at Davidson

Shamiya Cherry
Junior Shamiya Cherry typically wipes off tables in the dining room or stacks plate in the dish room, but occasionally gets to work in the kitchen as well.

For nearly two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, 17 Mooresville High School special needs students arrive at Davidson to work alongside employees in Vail Commons, Lula Bell Houston Laundry and Alvarez College Union.

The students complete a variety of tasks, including cleaning dishes, wiping tables, sweeping floors, cleaning laundry machines and sorting laundry bags. In addition to gaining work experience, they are meeting a graduation requirement.

Each of the students looks forward to some aspect of their work. Senior Nick Wise, a self-proclaimed neat freak, loves to leave the union spotless. Junior Andreas Cote especially enjoys the walk from the bus to campus because it allows him to get out and exercise. Like most of the high school students, his favorite day is Friday, when they get to eat lunch in Vail Commons.

The high school students also enjoy the strong personal connections they've made at Davidson. "I like helping the people here and talking to Ms. Glenda in the laundry," said junior Caleb Carter. "She's always smiling and talks to me about my schoolwork and what I did over the weekend."

Tammy Wolfe
Tammy Wolfe is one of the high school teachers that supervise the students while they’re working.

As a primary partner, Davidson has committed resources to the program. For the past four years, Allison Melton, assistant director of Vail Commons, has supervised the students, providing instruction and guidance.

"We really appreciate them coming here," she said. "We have a lot to do and they've been a big help, so everyone is grateful for our relationship with the school. We're always excited when they come in."

At the beginning of each academic year, Mooresville High School Exceptional Student Teacher Yevette Peveler meets with college staff to identify assignments and match students to the assignments. Three teachers-one for each job location-accompany the students to campus.

"They're gaining employable skills that will help them get jobs in similar areas," Peveler said. "The Davidson employees fully take the students under their wings and teach them everything they need to know. It's amazing how they embrace the students and maintain high expectations for them."

The partnership began 14 years ago, when Peveler's predecessor, Melanie Morrison, approached Dee Phillips, director of dining services, about finding an outlet to provide special needs students with job training. It began with Vail Commons but quickly expanded.

More broadly, the partnership comprises part of the occupational course of studies program, one of two paths toward a diploma in North Carolina. The program is designed for students with mild to moderate disabilities and requires four of the 28 credits for graduation to be career technical education credits, plus job training hours.

Andreas Cote
Many students get the opportunity to work in various positions around campus. Here, junior Andreas Cote is sorting bags of washed laundry.

Students also must complete a senior project in which they choose a career of interest, set up an after-school internship, and conduct research and interviews to complete a paper. After four years of work, they compile their work and deliver a 15-minute presentation to a panel of judges from the community.

Bonnie Dunavent, associate director of dining services, has witnessed how the students change during her 13 years at Davidson.

"You can see it from the first day until they finish the program. They learn about responsibility and all that is necessary for a first-time employee. By the end, you can really tell that they have more confidence and take pride in their work," she said.

At the end of each semester students have the opportunity to share what they've learned and accomplished with their families and the community at a breakfast.

Peveler said that beyond hearing about the students' phenomenal experiences, she has noticed first-hand that they're picking up on little things that apply to school and everyday life. For instance, one student informed her that a pot handle should be turned inward, while another suggested that they buy separate cutting boards for meat and produce.

"The people at Davidson have taught me everything I know about cleaning and have helped me gain experience that I can put on a résumé so that I'll be able to get a job after graduation. I feel very thankful," junior Shamiya Cherry said.