Special Education program begins mug cleaning business – Web Exclusive

Ian Howard | Staff Writer

Juniors and seniors in Mason High School’s Special Education program are taking a hands-on approach to learning occupational skills, according to Special Education teacher Amy Lillich. Lillich said students learn the principles of working through jobs that sell goods and provide services.

“We wash [teachers’] cups Monday through Thursday, because [on] Friday we [make and sell] dog bones,” Lillich said.

Having a full weekday schedule for the students serves a double purpose, according to Lillich.

“[It not only] gets them used to a routine and a job, [but it is] a way to create revenue for the classroom,” Lillich said. “We do a lot of Special Olympics events and we have T-shirts made. We’ve [also] gone to school dances [with the money.]”

Last year, Lillich said the class was very successful in simply selling preordered dog bones to a certain group of teachers. According to Lillich, the limo that the class got for prom was financed through mornings spent laboring over dog bones.

“Ideally, [the bones] get done before lunch, [and] once they’re done cooking, we package them in bags of twelve,” Lillich said.

This year, Lillich said that the class has expanded their consumer base from a small amount of teachers to anyone that has an urge to buy a dog treat outside of the cafeteria.

Along with the expansion into the lunch room comes an entirely new task for the class to perform, but it does not come without its share of elbow grease, according to Lillich.

“This year it’s [been] a lot of work because we go out [during] third bell and collect the mugs everywhere around the building,” Lillich said. “Then [during] fifth bell, we distribute them for the next morning.”

Cleaning the cups in the dishwasher of Lillich’s room, the most significant part of the occupation is social interaction, which both teaches and challenges the students, according to Lillich.

“[I tell the kids,] you can’t just walk in and expect [the teachers] to put the mug on the cart; you have to say ‘Hi, good morning, I’m here to pick up a mug,’” Lillich said. “If I see behavior that is not great, I say [to them] ‘What do you think your boss would do if . . . this was your paying job?’ and they tell me, ‘I’d get fired.’”

Lillich, who has been teaching special education students for 11 years, said that the jobs take learning beyond the classroom.

“[The jobs are] designed to assist in the teaching of daily living skills,” Lillich said. “The cooking [teaches] measuring, ingredients and kitchen safety, [collecting teaches] money management skills and talking to the students or the staff [teaches personal skills]. [They also learn] vocational skills in that it’s a job, and without doing the job, you’re not going to make money.”

One of Lillich’s senior students, Chad Brooks, said that he started volunteering to work at restaurants and stores since they started making dog bones.

“I work at Longhorn’s, [but] I’m just volunteering,” Brooks said. “I [also] work at Payless, and I volunteer for that too. At Payless I do shoes, and at Longhorn’s I set the table.”

Brooks said that he is currently pursuing a paid job and he hopes to get hired in a few months.

“Now I’m looking at Target, which is going to be a paid job and I don’t know when that’s going to be it could be second [trimester],” Brooks said.

But the juniors and seniors are not alone in pursuing career opportunities in the classroom, according to Lillich; the freshmen and sophomores are involved in a card making company.

“They buy all of the supplies, [and] for [certain] holidays, they have stamps, stencils and cut-outs,” Lillich said. “They basically create [the cards] from scratch.”

According to Lillich, every cup that the students clean, every dog bone that they sell and every card that they design goes toward the goal of being one day independent, or as close to it as possible.

“My students are on a pre-vocational path, the purpose of this classroom is to get the students ready for life after high school [and] without college, so it’s really to get them ready for supported or independent employment,” Lillich said.