Greenville County Schools announced a “one-of-a-kind” collaboration between its food and nutrition services and special education departments jobs. Culinary Employability Credentials and School-Based Business Enterprises Training are available to special education students. The first group of students has begun at Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center’s cutting-edge kitchen facility. 

The students began training last week as the program began. They have already learned basic food safety and sanitation jobs procedures, working with recipes, mixing ingredients, and even harvesting fresh green beans and squash from the Living History Farm. 

According to Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services, the partnership will serve as a national model for preparing students for success in the workplace. While the program does not lead to a specific job, it does provide special education students with the opportunity to gain the workplace skills needed to obtain living-wage jobs. 

Greenville County Schools director of food and nutrition services Joe Urban said the program was discussed after the new sustainability building at Roper Mountain Science Center opened. He stated that they discovered the building would have a kitchen facility where students could get hot lunches while on field trips. 

According to Urban, the discussion then began with the special education department and board members about the possibility of assisting those students in earning credit for workforce skills. He added that the program has six to nine students enrolled at any given time. 

According to Traci Hogan, assistant superintendent for special education services, students must obtain 360 work hours to earn the employability credential. They will clock these hours as part of that. They may have another job at Roper Mountain, their school, or another location with a community partner at the end of the nine-week program. 

It really depends on their interest and what is available,” Hogan added. “This particular program is in its early stages but is unique in that it is a district facility that was designed with three purposes. Training for our own students with disabilities was one of the three.” 

Aside from providing on-site meals for students during field trips, the food and nutrition services also ‘test’ foods and prepare catering-type orders, according to Hogan. Roper Mountain Science Center can be rented, and schools and programs can order food for meetings, events, and so on. Hogan said one of the hashtags for the special education department is #makingconnections. 

 “Over the years, we have done a lot of work on general ed and special ed connecting to maximize our work and outcomes for students,” said Hogan. “We also work to make connections with families, teachers, and students across the district, and of course, community and businesses. So that led us to name the kitchen Connections Café.” 

Amanda Drew, Roper Mountain Science Center kitchen manager, said the program had received many positive feedback from parents. 

“Parents are telling us that the students are enjoying the independence they are learning and enjoying being a part of a team, working side-by-side with each other,” Drew said. “They love being on their feet and moving all day versus sitting in a classroom setting. We are really proud of these students.” 

Hogan, according to Saylors, was discussing a program at a Horry County technical school that gives class credits for employability, so special education students have career options. They can get a job commensurate with their abilities, such as a nursing assistant or someone who works in culinary arts. 

According to Saylors, the pair then took their idea of employability credentials to the state Legislature to make it law. Unlike occupational diplomas, students would have more options and skills to get living-wage jobs eventually. The special education department determines which students are qualified to participate in such a program. 

“We secured a grant and put a school-based business in every Greenville County high school, essentially students learning how to operate a small business,” Saylors continued. 

“They have so much to offer the Greenville community and are definitely an example of how we are working to build a better graduate,” Hogan added. 

“I am very proud of the programs, which are a perfect example of what can be done to give our special needs students the capability to get a living-wage job with benefits. It took a long time for my son to do that. If he could have had this type of program while he was in school, he could have been more productive. It’s a win-win for everyone. I hope this will become a national best practice for all students to have this type of opportunity.” 

Source: U.S. News & World Report