BELLVILLE -- Her name is Kaitlin.
Her complete identity isn’t nearly as important as what she has accomplished.
Kaitlin is a trailblazer for other special education transition students at Clear Fork High School who have more intensive needs required for independent living. She is the first to earn a paying job.
Her work with Clear Fork’s special education department and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) has paid off. She feels the pride and self-confidence that have come from a part-time job at Kroger.
“I work as a courtesy clerk,” Kaitlin explained. “I bag groceries, get carts and use barcodes to put items back on shelves.”
Ryan Vermillion, Clear Fork’s special education director, said Kaitlin’s success is the result of her determination to overcome life’s obstacles and the support she has received.
“We had talked for years about transitioning students into the workforce,” he said. “We will continue to move forward to achieve that for more students.”
The first step is to teach everyday life skills.
Amy Cox, a special education intervention specialist, oversees Ramsey House in Butler, where special services currently are provided to six students.
“The house had been owned by Doug Ramsey, a former principal at Butler Elementary, and his wife Donna, a former teacher there. We received a grant to buy and remodel it so that our students could have the opportunity to learn life skills in a smaller setting,” Cox said.
Students perform household tasks, including learning how to use a washer and dryer. They prepare meals with the items they purchase at Stoodt’s Fresh Market in Bellville. They take field trips, such as a recent one to a credit union, and the staff at OOD arranges for speakers to visit Ramsey House.
“Our focus is this: What steps do our kids need to make to get summer jobs?” Cox said.
Vermillion emphasized learning life skills is merged with core academics. Math, language arts and other subjects are taught at Ramsey House Monday through Thursday and at the high school on Friday.
“Our goal is for students to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “Amy does a lot of work behind the scenes to get students ready. A big part of our job is to help them develop confidence in themselves.
"Amy works with them on social and emotional skills so they can work with a job coach.”
That’s where Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities comes in.
“Kaitlin and I met when she was in eighth grade,” said Shannon Fletcher, an OOD vocational rehabilitation counselor. “She has been in several sessions with us. She worked with a job coach and did a great job.
“Kaitlin’s mom said Kaitlin got the job at Kroger mostly on her own. She applied and interviewed on her own. She was hired last summer and continues to work 20 hours a week.”
Now a sophomore, Kaitlin will continue to work with Fletcher through her senior year.
Cox said Kaitlin is breaking ground for other students.
“It is great to have her as a role model,” Cox said. “Other students will think, ‘If Kaitlin’s doing it, so can I.’ Their parents will see that too.”
Cox and Vermillion said Clear Fork’s eventual goal is for special education students to have the work experience required to earn the OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal on their diplomas. That seal indicates that a student has “the personal strengths, strong work ethic and professional experience that businesses need.”
For now, all of Clear Fork shares the pride of Kaitlin’s success.
“I love my job,” she said. “I have made many friends at Kroger.”
Clear Fork Valley Local Schools is a client district of the Knox Educational Service Center in Mount Vernon. Knox ESC develops, implements, and operates cooperative, shared educational services for Clear Fork Valley, as well as the Centerburg, Danville, East Knox, Fredericktown, and Mount Vernon City school districts.