Southwest Area Career Center of Monett offers a cutting edge program that benefits high school students from Monett and 14 sending school districts. The Work Experience Program (WEP) offers students an opportunity to work in jobs on a volunteer basis where they job shadow in the community to learn job skills.
SWACC's program is the only one in Missouri that offers such concentration and detail which helps students for the transition from school to work.
Students entering the work experience program must have an individualized education plan (IEP). The WEP program provides students with career exploration and real-world training. Training phases may include assessment, job shadowing, work experience, transition planning and cooperative work. Geneva Blue, WEP coordinator for the past seven years, works closely with the local school district, the IEP team and other support agencies.
"Some students might be in the program for several years or sometimes just a quarter or semester," said Blue. "It just depends on what meets their needs."
The program is an elective credit, so students have to meet the other credit requirements first.
"We wouldn't let them miss a communication or math credit to be in the program," said Blue. "They wouldn't be able to graduate if we allowed that. The required credits have to be met first."
Students with disabilities or special needs have an IEP and every student has their own plan. Some students with particular needs make it necessary that they graduate on their plan rather than traditional school credits.
"That is my group that I typically have for several years," said Blue.
Other students may store up all of their elective credits and use them to participate in WEP.
All of the students who enter the program have special needs. The needs can range from small disabilities in educational learning to physical needs.
According to Blue, students must have an IEP diagnosis from their local school district to enter the program. The student must be safe in the community and cannot disrupt the work environment.
"We can't send a student to a work environment that the employer is so busy instructing or managing the student that business could not get done at the site," said Blue.
According to Blue, the program has produced tremendous outcomes.
"The biggest things I see is that some of the children enter the program with a lack of confidence or lack of direction," said Blue. "They find themselves and feel the success that they have achieved. I also see them blossom and become workers and potential employees."
Because of the program, every year there is a student that gets a job offered to them. Last year, a student job shadowed at Jack Henry and Associates, and they hired him at the end of year.
"We see tremendous outcomes, and the ones that mean the most to me aren't those that you can quantify or demonstrate," said Blue. "They are more those intangibles that you can see growth in that student."
Blue has seen over 100 students complete the program since she has been coordinator. In the beginning, the program averaged 12 to 15 students a year, and growth continues with 22 students this year.
At this time of year, Blue will sit down with the supervisors and conduct interviews and evaluations on the students. They receive a regular grade and three hours credit for being in the program for three hours a day. Blue and her assistant, Shelley Stewart, check on the students every day. They are evaluated on daily presentability and participation.
"They don't have to know the job," said Blue, "none of us do when we start a job, but they have to be in there doing their best."
Students get participation points on a daily basis, and they receive quarterly evaluations from the employer.
Among the businesses participating in the program are Ramey Supermarket, Jack Henry and Associates, Lacoba, Cox Monett Hospital, Benchmark Healthcare, Wickman Gardens, Pierce City Senior Center, Monett School District, Monett Family Restaurant, Doug's Pro Lube and other placements in Cassville, Miller and Mt. Vernon.
"This is one of the most fun things about the job," said Blue. "I meet the student, interview them and find a job to fit their interests."
If classes are not being held on a particular day, then the student does not work. They are responsible for letting their supervisor know ahead of time when they won't be there.
If students are absent, they are not earning points. If students miss work because of illness, they do not earn points, but if they contact their supervisor, they can get some of the points back.
"Most people that lose their jobs now lose it because of attendance, punctuality or tardiness," said Blue. "I am kind of a mix between a mom and a drill sergeant but watching the growth of these students is very rewarding."