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Sporting an ear-to-ear grin, Brian Groat pushes the automatic floor-cleaning machine through the hallways of Sisters High School. Students and staff who pass by wave and call out “Hi Brian and “Good job, Brian.” Brian is one of four students in the school’s Transition Program who has been hired by the Sisters School District to perform custodial tasks.

“I love this job so much,” exclaimed Groat. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”

Michaela Madsen gently squeezes the nozzle of a compressor that blows air onto computer keyboards and monitors. Education Assistant Bryn Singleton encourages her to move the nozzle around the keyboard to get the spots of dust that she has missed.

“That’s it, Michaela. You’ve got it,” Singleton says.

Both Brian and Michaela are participating in a program that gives students with special needs paid work experience. The students provide custodial services in the district offices and campus buildings including washing windows, vacuuming, blowing out keyboards, and other tasks. According to Transition Teacher Josh Nordell, the program is a win-win for the district, which doesn’t have the staff to perform these functions.

“We want to assist these students in acquiring jobs skills that may help them find employment once they graduate,” said Nordell. “Being paid for their efforts is an added bonus that helps give them a sense of accomplishment and pride.”

Funding for the program came from a Youth Transition Program grant. The program will soon hire three general education students who have been mentors in the school’s Life Skills class to serve as job coaches, working with students one-on-one.

“The mentors will be students participating in the general ed. service field pathway, explained Nordell. “This offers some of our general education students a paid work experience as they explore a career field they are interested in.”

The coaches will evaluate students’ job performance and guide them on how to properly carry out their work tasks.

“It’s a great experience for both our special needs and our general education students,” Nordell said.  “They are both learning new skills and exploring potential future job paths.”