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Area High School, DLM Partner for Special Needs Program

By: Jessie Kuhn | Staff Writer
On: July 28, 2015

Ried Huelsman, a student at Oakwood High School with special needs, would often come through his sister’s checkout line at Dorothy Lane Market, along with his parents. While shopping, he would tell Tracy Colbert, DLM Oakwood’s Front End Manager, that he was going to work at DLM one day, too, like his sister. Tracy would reply, “when you turn 16.”

So last year when Ried turned 16 years old, Tracy gave him an application. This led to a conversation with Ried’s teachers at Oakwood High School, and it was decided that Ried along with three of his classmates accompanied by an aide from the school would volunteer at DLM two days a week for an hour and a half to two hours at a time. This program in conjunction with Oakwood High School, which initiated because of Ried’s interest, continued all school year and will pick back up again this coming year. Although it all happened organically, Tracy says that “it just kind of snowballed in a good way.”

As a former special education teacher, Tracy thinks that it’s important for these students to feel like they are contributing to the community, which includes gaining basic workplace skills. When the students come to DLM, they arrive in uniforms, they learn about time clocks, and they help out bagging at the front end under Tracy’s supervision. There, they greet customers, ask them if they’d like “paper or plastic,” thank them, and offer to help transport the groceries to their car, along with their aide. “These are all my kids up here,” Tracy says. “There’s a real opportunity for them to have that life experience.”

Becky Wierwille, a teacher for the multiple disability program at Oakwood High School, agrees. “There’s a huge sense of pride that they take in it ... The kids get that [vocational] experience and skills,” Becky says, citing that these are things that just can’t be replicated in the classroom.