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Turlock High prepares special needs students for careers
THS TPP pic1
Turlock High School graduate Adrian Garcia works at Cost Less in Turlock. Garcia is one of 16 2010 graduates who Job Coach Developer Kathy Smith placed in employment through the Transitional Partnership Program. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

In today’s economy it can be tough for a young high school graduate to find work — especially if they are saddled with a learning disability or have special needs. In many cases these students will simply turn 18 and begin collecting Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI.

But a 15-year-old program at Turlock High School is breaking the cycle of relying on the government — and giving them the skills to lead productive and independent lives.

According to Kathy Smith, a THS job coach and developer, the Transitional Partnership Program’s ultimate goal is to break that cycle and produce contributing members of society.

The TPP is a triangle partnership between the California Department of Rehabilitation, Turlock Unified School District and the student. The THS program is allotted funding from the Department of Rehab to help graduating seniors develop skills necessary to find a job and keep a job.

Smith said that even things like a haircut and learning how to completely fill out an online application can be daunting task for some special needs students, however, with encouragement, they can make it in the world.

“Our first goal is get the kids to complete high school, and then find a reliable means of transportation. That could mean they get a California driver’s license or learn the bus schedule,” said Smith. “Then our goal moves to helping a student work on their strengths and understand their weaknesses.”

Through the TPP curriculum students are expected to build a portfolio with a resume and letters of recommendation. They are also expected to learn how to dress and behave properly for interviews.

In addition to the portfolio, guest speakers visit the TPP and speak with seniors about finding jobs. Recently, Bianca Sanchez, a former THS graduate and currently with Employment Development Department Youth, held a presentation about applying for a job. She noted that students should keep in mind that even something as simple as an unprofessional ring back tone or an e-mail address could send an application to the bottom of the pile.

“Employers are looking for people who are mature, responsible and who can represent their company in a positive manner,” said Sanchez.

One of the TPP primary responsibilities is to build relationships with local businesses that hire students. “Over the years we’ve developed connections with numerous businesses in Turlock and the surrounding area,” Smith explained.

The program experiences a resounding amount of success, especially considering the current economic condition of the Valley. According to Smith, out of 27 students who graduated last year, 16 had been placed in employment within 90 days of graduation.

“We are giving these kids a chance and we are making sure we give them the tools to make themselves successful. Now obviously we aren’t going to have lawyers or doctors, but these kids can have careers,” she said.

Smith maintains files on about 40 students ranging from current seniors to last year’s graduates. Through TPP she tracks them for up to one year following graduation to ensure they get a job and keep a job.

Employers are seeing the benefits of the program. Oscar Avila, Cost Less store manager, said he has hired several employees over the years from TPP.

“They always do a good job, they have great attitudes, they are reliable, show up on time and they just do their job. That’s all we ask for. None of the other employees really know that we hire these kids from the program,” he explained.

Current employee Adrian Garcia has been employed as a courtesy clerk for about three months and he said he enjoys his job and is thankful for TPP.

The TPP is turning heads.

“This is one of the most successful programs like this in the state. Other programs are modeling after us and it’s all because of the great people like Kathy Smith who are involved in it and the character of the kids,” said TUSD Student Services Director Gil Ogden.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.