A Harrison School District program designed to prepare students to enter the workforce recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and added several new services to its lineup.
Founded during the spring 2019 semester, the World of Work program is a way for special education and alternative school students in grades 5-12 to gain practical experience they can use to help them secure jobs after graduating. Students perform a variety of tasks throughout the district, from running a coffee cart at Harrison Middle School to cleaning up the Harrison High School cafeteria and library.
Within the past two weeks, the program added a full-service laundromat that allows students who are too busy to do their own laundry the chance to drop off clothing and have it washed, dried and folded.
“The students absolutely love it,” said Stephanie Barr, the Harrison High School life skills teacher who founded and oversees the program. “It’s really helped build their vocational skills. They’re picking up so many skills that help them now, and will continue to help them after they graduate. They’re learning how to complete tasks, which is huge for them. They’re improving their social and communication skills. And they genuinely enjoy the work. I’ve had a really positive response from all of the students.”
Barr, who is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Central Arkansas, got the idea for the program after some of her college classmates discussed workforce-readiness programs at their local schools. Barr’s program has grown exponentially since its launch and now serves about 40 students.
The laundry service, named GobWash, is a particularly exciting addition to the World of Work program because it’s mutually beneficial. Not only does it provide a free, easy outlet for Harrison students who need assistance with washing their clothes, it creates some tangible benefits for those in the program.
“It’s great for our students,” Barr said. “Quite a few of our students who can’t participate in other aspects of the program can still get experience here. They all really like doing the laundry. They think it’s a lot of fun. It’s really helping the kids with their self-esteem skills and feeling a part of a community.”
GobWash is the brainchild of students and faculty in the High School’s EAST initiative, a project- and service-based program, who have worked with Barr’s group to bring it to fruition. It officially launched Feb. 27, becoming the latest addition to a growing lineup of work opportunities for Barr’s students.
World of Work participants also sort foods for the Harrison Backpack Program, which provides nutritional meals to students when school is not in session, and coordinate the High School’s recycling efforts. They create arts and crafts projects that are sold at 6 Sisters Boutique (114 E Stephenson) and recently partnered with the Harrison Goblin Booster Club to sell branded bookmarks at the Goblin Store.
Work is a big part of the World of Work program, but the world is equally important. Students make weekly field trips to local attractions, parks and businesses to help them get acclimated to exploring their community. Some previous stops have included grocery stores, Lake Harrison and the Boone County Heritage Museum, all of whom have been eager to open their doors to help the students.
“It would be impossible to have a successful program without all the support we’ve received from the schools and the community,” Barr said. “If they weren’t willing to take a chance on us and allow us to try something new, we wouldn’t be able to provide our students with this valuable vocational education.”
With an ever-growing and diverse range of opportunities available to World of Work students, Barr hopes that the experience they gain will create some more opportunities for them later in life.
“Students who are disabled are much less likely to be gainfully employed after graduation,” Barr said. “There are a lot of social repercussions associated with that. Through this program, we want to get our students as job-ready as possible so they have the experience they need to help them find that first job.
“We want to increase their comfort level as much as possible so that all of these scan be active members of the community and contribute to the community after they graduate.”
Ensuring all students leave school with the knowledge they need to be successful in life is just one of the many ways the Harrison School District is Building the Future: Every Learner, Every Day, Every Way. For more information, visit www.harrisongoblins.org.