CROSSETT - The community of Crossett supports the initiatives of high school students with disabilities and contributes to their independence and success. In partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS), Crossett High School launched a program designed to transition students with disabilities into the workplace. The program, Opportunities for Work-Based Learning Program (OWL), assists high schools in creating programs that help students with disabilities become successful, productive members of the community.
The purpose of OWL is to provide the opportunity to gain work readiness skills and work experience before students graduate from high school. The program is open to anyone who has a disability and it can include those diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, as well as physical disabilities and injuries. Funded by ARS, students can receive minimum wage for working up to four hours a day.
In its first year at Crossett High School, ten students participated in the program learning to perform a variety of jobs on the school campus. The jobs range from custodial to culinary. In addition to job experience and a paycheck, teachers have reported improved attendance and behavior, as well as greater confidence and independence on the part of participants. Students have learned new skills, received their first paychecks, and a few have started their own business. Participants are also learning vital life skills like balancing a checkbook, saving money, filing taxes, and working with people.
The support of local businesses has been a significant part of the program’s success. Banks assist students in opening checking and savings accounts. Other businesses and fellow high school students have partnered with OWL participants who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Several students joined together to form a mobile refreshment stand. Hospitality Cart and Crossett Café Cart serve coffee, hot chocolate, and pastries donated by Daylight Doughnuts to students and staff on Wednesdays. Participating students take turns communicating with customers, taking orders, counting money, making change, and providing customer service.
The success of the program, still in its first year at Crossett, has drawn the attention of other local businesses. The Crossett Fire Department, Georgia Pacific, and Crossett Lanes Bowling Alley have expressed interest in taking the program off-campus in the future. Since the OWL program funds the training and work of students up to 20-hours a week, it could be beneficial for the entire community.