Youth Transition Program emphasizes hands-on training
Pay a visit to West Linn-Wilsonville's CREST (Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies) Headquarters on any given weekday afternoon and you're likely to find a contingent of high school students and community volunteers hard at work.
They might be trimming bushes, sanding down picnic tables or even nailing together and painting signs to be used throughout the school district. But whatever they're doing, you can guarantee students are learning vocational skills as part of the district's Youth Transition Program.
Working primarily out of headquarters adjacent to Boones Ferry Primary in Wilsonville, but also at the CREST Farm near Boeckman Creek Primary, Youth Transition Program Specialist Becky Hancock spends her days working on workforce skills with WL-WV students. Her primary focus is with the district's YTP students — who routinely bus over from West Linn, Wilsonville and Arts and Technology high schools throughout the week — but she also works with other district special education and general education students, as well as the Adult Transition Program students at times during the week.
A partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation Oregon and the University of Oregon, the Youth Transition Program serves roughly 50 students across the district's three high schools. The program targets students with documented disabilities that present a barrier to work — though it opens its arms to any student looking for help — providing skills and education to help students transition into the workforce during and after high school.
Hancock's mission is to integrate vocational training into everyday lessons, which in turn spills into the district's high schools and middle schools.
"The district understands the value of that hands-on work," Hancock says. "Many, many of these students in the special education part of these classes either will become YTP or we're going to work them toward some vocational goal. ... Everything we do is connected."
Working in concert with Youth Transition Program Specialists Mary Hanks (at West Linn High) and Carol Davis (at Wilsonville High), one of Hancock's primary responsibilities is to assess YTP students' vocational skills so that the trio can determine what areas need further work. The overall goal is to prepare students for the workforce while teaching them life skills to help them succeed once they're out of the school district's hands.
"I'm collecting data, getting them involved in every activity I can, (increasing) their skill level," Hancock says. "I'm looking at strengths and weaknesses so that we can give good information to that vocational rehabilitation counselor (Hanks or Davis). Problem solving, asking questions, working in a group — those are the sorts of areas I'm monitoring and assessing."
"This setting provides the opportunities for work experience that they wouldn't be able to get in the classroom before they go out and work in the community," says West Linn-Wilsonville Assistant Director of Student Services Josh Flosi. "That work readiness assessment helps us plan for what other skills we need to teach."
On May 4 YTP students and Adult Transition students — special education students aged 18-21 whose program is housed at Art Tech — combined their efforts to prepare CREST Headquarters for summer. Working with tools that included wheelbarrows, sanders, paintbrushes and even hammers, students worked on specific projects that Hancock and community volunteers had prepared for the day. The mixed class worked alongside Wilsonville High Teacher Judy Morris-Green's Green Technology class, with WHS students mentoring YTP and Adult Transition students as they completed complicated tasks.
Morris-Green's students routinely use recycled materials to build signs, chalk boards and even tables, which YTP students help construct and later paint. Any student using potentially dangerous tools, like chop saws or screwdrivers, first undergoes safety training, but when it's finally time to get to work, Hancock says she's always amazed by how motivated students can be.
"The kids are craving this stuff. And not just special education kids. Kids are craving hands-on work. I think as a district we're starting to see that, that not everyone is going to Stanford, and not everyone is even going to go to Clackamas Community College. I have students that will be lucky if they can find 10 hours of work a week," Hancock says. "If we can give those students some real skills that are going to help them in life then we're going to do our best to make sure that happens."
While YTP students spend a large portion of their time outdoors with Hancock, they also get real-world experiences inside CREST Headquarters when the weather is bad in the winter. Students learn office skills like tracking inventory for the district's science equipment, and also help answering phones and cleaning the pens of CREST's many animals. It's not always glamorous work, but Hancock says she's routinely impressed with the work ethic and thirst for learning of her YTP and other special education students.
"The beauty of having CREST is that it's not all landscaping or gardening. We're also the science center for the district, so we have all the binoculars and scales and pond study equipment to help get ready for the district to use," Hancock says. "I have kids sign in and out like they would in a work environment, and we have set break times. We learn how you're expected to act at work, and our YTP students will also learn a good deal of office skills."
With the weather finally improving Hancock says her students will spend more and more time outside. They'll get headquarters and the CREST Farm ready for the summer, where many will continue to work and learn even during summer vacation. In her fifth year with the district, v Hancock says the Youth Transition Program has its limitations, but that it's work that's just as important as any other learning that goes on with in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.
"What I appreciate about the opportunity to have the YTP program out here is we start everyday with the belief that every single one of these guys, and we're talking about varying disabilities, can find this purposeful work. I believe that," Hancock says. "And these skills will help them when they live in an apartment and they need to fix something. It's all hands-on, real stuff.
"Sometimes it takes us all year to find something they can contribute to the work force, but we'll find it. I have some guys who will sand down tables, who have significant disabilities, but they love the sander. I put saws in people's hands where parents didn't think it would ever be safe or possible. Part of it is that exploration and giving them opportunities. Letting them hold a hammer or work with tools. That belief system is where I come from."
To find out more about the WL-WV Youth in Transitions program, go to ytporegon.org/content/west-linnwilsonville-ytp.