The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and Beaver Brae Secondary School are celebrating the success of a new program.

The Students with Abilities and Special Education Co-op program rolled out earlier this school-year, and BBSS Vice-Principal Lisa Achilles says that the program has been nothing short of outstanding.

“We recognized the need for special education students with special needs to be prepared for the workplace. We needed to ensure that they could work on their employ-ability skills, and that they could practice these skills in the community with various employers. We really wanted to create learning environments, and that these students can be valuable contributors to the employment sector.”

The program works similarly to the Co-op program offered at high schools across the district, where students earn academic credits towards graduation by gaining experience in the workforce, but the new program includes special education students.

Beaver Brae has 9 students in the program this year. Achilles says that there are other schools in Ontario with similar programs, but Beaver Brae and the KPDSB created their own version of the program, to better fit the needs of students within northwestern Ontario.

Justin Durand is a part of the program, and he says that the can’t recommend the new co-op program enough.

“The program is so helpful because it can give you experience in a job. I have friends in the program, and they’re all enjoying it too. It’s a great program.”

Durand works as a cook in Kenora’s Co-op restaurant, next to the Lake-Vu Motel. He says that the co-op program has provided him the opportunity to work in his dream job.

“It’s been pretty good. I’ve learnt a lot. I started to work in a kitchen, which is my dream job. I’ve liked it a lot. I’ve been having a lot of fun. My favourite part is the new cooking techniques that I’ve been taught, like how bread can prevent sugar from hardening.”

The KPDSB says that the goals of the program include preparing students for employment, and educating community employers on opportunities for hiring students and their ability to be valuable contributors to the employment sector.

Achilles added that community partnerships have been crucial to the success of the program, and highlighted the work done by the Kenora Association of Community Living. KACL helped to identify the need for the program, helped to find employers to take on and teach the co-op students, and helped to coach students in the workforce.

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