The smell of pizza sticks, chicken tornadoes, and garlic mashed potatoes fills your nose as you walk towards the cafeteria. You stand in line, pondering over the choices when a wide grin helps you make your decision.
Through a curriculum called Work Introduction Network, or WIN, MN’s special education students have the opportunity to learn real-world job skills. The class is designed to teach the students the skills right in MN, so they are ready to take those skills out to the rest of the world.
“Whether it’s working in food, or working on cleaning like in the library, or helping out in general, the ultimate goal is to expose them to those opportunities so that they can learn and transfer it to a real job someday,” special education teacher Nicole Torralbas said.
The students begin helping out in the kitchen at 9 a.m. from Tuesdays to Fridays, rotating out on different days.
When they come in, they split up into two groups: some help in the cafeteria and the others go into the C-store next door.
The students that go to the condiment area of the cafeteria stock silverware, napkins, cups, and other things that will be used during lunch later. If they’re in the C store, they stock water in the coolers and help rotate out fruit.
“They really do help quite a bit,” food production manager Greg Eades said. “We’re just happy that they’re doing that, and I’m really glad that I get to be a part of something that is really turning out well.”
After practicing and perfecting their vocational skills in the cafeteria, some of the students have the opportunity to even get paid for their work. Sophomore Jessannah Eddy and seniors Cameryn Rose and Lauren Tweed were given this opportunity, with some additional responsibilities.
“This class just builds upon those skills, and if that’s an opportunity for them later, they can take advantage of that,” Torralbas said. “Some of our other students also have other jobs outside of the school that they are able to participate in as well.”
The students get to experience the perks of a real job while working in the cafeteria.
“Jessannah [Eddy] got her first paycheck ever the other day. We had a really big celebration, and everyone was so excited for her,” special education teacher Tricia Rohde said. “[It is] great just to see them have their own money and be able to figure out how they’re gonna spend it and what they’re gonna save. Tax is taken out and all that stuff and they’re like ‘no!’”
Eddy loves her job, especially when she gets to serve at the pizza station of the cafeteria.
“It takes a lot of work sometimes, but that’s okay because it’s worth it. I have fun,” Eddy said. “I’m glad I get to do this and have this experience.”
With their new job skills and everlasting wide grins, these students make the cafeteria a happier place.
“Ultimately, the program is an excellent opportunity for them to have that real-life kind of thing the rest of us experience at this age, right in their own school,” Rohde said. “It’s amazing to see them grow from it.”