It’s not easy to keep an elementary school running smoothly, but the Combee Academy of Design and Engineering doesn’t have to look far for extra help.
Twice a week, a group of students from Tenoroc High make the journey to Combee Academy, where they tackle all sorts of jobs: stocking and organizing the school’s food pantry, working in the media center and sprucing up the campus landscaping.
The weekly visits are important to all involved. The hard-working volunteers are from Tenoroc High’s Transition Services program, which serves students with special needs by providing experiences that develop their work skills and independence.
“The collaboration and partnership we’ve had with Combee Academy has been great,” says Ashlyn Cobb, who heads the Transition program at Tenoroc. “We have students who need to learn job skills in a real-world setting. It’s a big step, and shows them they can have independence and function on their own.”
The partnership with Combee, launched in September, also helps the Tenoroc students develop soft skills like time management and teamwork, Cobb said. In addition, she has noticed improvements in the students’ morale and attendance.
“I see a new confidence in them. They feel needed, and they love that,” Cobb said. “They’re accomplishing a real job; they’re getting something done.”
Polk County Public Schools offers the Transition Services program at 12 high school locations throughout the county, as well as a number of off-campus sites — such as Lakeland Regional Health, RP Funding Center and the school district headquarters in Bartow — where students can take part in valuable internships.
Students with disabilities are eligible to participate in Transition programs from age 14 through 22, supporting their “transition” to post-high school activities that include additional education (postsecondary, vocational, etc.), employment and independent living.
“I’m so proud of the work of our students, teachers and leaders in our various Transition classes and job sites,” said Kimberly Steinke, assistant superintendent of learning support for Polk County Public Schools. “The opportunities these young adults are experiencing with their classmates, other schools and local businesses is another example of the positive progress we’re making for students with disabilities in our district.”
Logan Fisher, 21, is in his final year of the Transition program at Lake Gibson High. He divides his time each week between a job at Publix and working in the Wigwam Café at LGHS, where he has a reputation for making tasty quesadillas.
Fisher takes great pride in his work, and he said he has discovered new talents while in the kitchen and serving customers.
“I’ve become more confident about myself as things went along … I can get more things accomplished,” he said. “If I ever had trouble I felt like I could talk to the teachers. If they see me struggling they come and help me out.”
Logan’s adoptive mother, Robin Fisher, agrees that the Transition program has made a difference for her son.
“He’s been through a lot in his life … so this program has helped him catch up to where he needs to be as a 21-year-old, having job skills and knowing he can contribute,” she said. “It’s been very beneficial for him to be in this program; we’ve been lucky to have it.”
Photo caption: Students from Tenoroc High’s Transition Services program volunteering at the Combee Academy of Design & Engineering.