Thursday, October 18th, 2007
Job coach strives to help teenagers with special needs
By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - A New Knoxville woman is working to keep special needs students from being "simply shoved out into the world" after high school graduation.
"Social skills is the first area I concentrate on ... It begins with animals," said Marilyn Newman, the job coach for Auglaize County Special Needs School, a program of the county's Educational Service Center. Newman and program director Nancy Mauter were guests on Wednesday at St. Marys Rotary Club's weekly luncheon at the St. Marys Eagles facility.
Newman's first job for these students hoping to join the workaday world is the Humane Society of Auglaize County.
"The atmosphere there is more informal and laid back ... There's no pressure and these kids and the animals just relate so well to each other," she told The Daily Standard following the luncheon meeting.
The jobs they are assigned include sweeping floors, cleaning cages, walking the dogs, and so forth - jobs that are really necessary at the society's animal shelter in Wapakoneta and give the kids a sense of accomplishment.
They work only 90 minutes one day a week, but Newman said it's "amazing" that they go back the next week and remember what they're to do and how to do it.
But often the most amazed are the area business people who later employ the students.
"One big thing about these kids is that they are almost never down and complaining. They come in with a smile and are sincerely happy to be there. You know it's not easy to find that kind of employee," said Newman, who provides one-on-one assistance for the student on the job site.
Presently there are 69 students at various stages of the program.
At first a student may not understand that the boss is not Newman, who often reminds them she's on the job to assist them, but they must follow directions from the employer. She focuses on areas such as not talking loud and laughing or jumping around.
"They catch on pretty quick, but it's a very different environment for them," she said. "It seems simple, but it's really a big, big thing for these kids. Our goal is independence and raising their maturity level."
And, for the most part the program is successful.
Newman begins the process with younger high school students so they have every opportunity to learn personal hygiene, career path options, how to be attentive to their task and other skills. As well, the overall program develops other social skills such as reading for pleasure, interacting with the community and establishing lifelong hobbies.
"I never knew a program like this existed until I was approached to help out a couple years ago. I actually had no formal training. I read a lot of books and kind of educated myself at first," she said.
Did Newman ever imagine herself in this role? "No, and certainly I didn't think anything like this would happen in my 60s ... But, you know, these kids keep me young," she said.