WISCA Students Develop Vocational Skills for Employment

Two Watson Institute students prepare coffee orders for their in-school jobs.

Helping students prepare to transition into adulthood is an important tenet of the Watson Institute’s mission. Teaching vocational, life, and social skills can help students with autism and other exceptionalities prepare for employment as they take their next steps after graduating from their school program.

Whether a student pursues post-secondary education at a vocational school, a two or four-year institution, or opts to launch their career in the workforce, educators at Watson work to ensure they have the skills and resources to do so successfully!  The Watson Institute’s Social Center for Academic Achievement (WISCA) program demonstrates just that.

Deanna, a former student in the WISCA program, came up with a creative way to help her and her peers gain valuable work experience while in school at Watson through the creation of the WISCA Coffee Cart! The Coffee Cart serves made-to-order coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to WISCA students and staff at the Sharpsburg and Bridgeville locations.

Students Develop Vocational Skills with In-School Jobs

The WISCA Coffee Cart provides opportunities for students to put into practice valuable social and vocational skills. In order to obtain a job working the Cart, students must apply and interview for their desired position. Job roles include a manager, order taker, barista, and order deliverer, each offering their own unique responsibilities for the student workers.

The Coffee Cart has been entirely student-operated since its inception last school year, with staff available to offer their support as needed. The current student manager, Anna, manages the schedule at the Bridgeville location, as well as inventory tracking. When supplies start to run low, Anna and her peers take trips to the local store to restock, using the donations they receive to purchase gift cards that cover the cost of supplies.

The Coffee Cart operates entirely on donations from patrons, so in addition to the job roles required to operate the cart, there is also a student responsible for recording all donations and providing receipts to donors.

Students Gain Valuable Interview Skills & Work Experience

In Anna’s words, “I think the [Coffee Cart] benefits students a lot. I did interviews with all of the students and I think that helps for our future.”

Anna developed the interview questions and conducted all of the candidate interviews herself, assigning each student worker to a role that best suited their preferences and schedules.

Not only are students gaining valuable interview skills and on-the-job experience, but all of the students were required to complete the ServeSafe Food Handler course and assessment through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture so they could safely prepare food and beverages to serve to their peers and staff members at Watson.

These are certifications that students preparing to graduate can take with them as they begin to interview for jobs. Not only do they have the practical certification for a position that may require, but the certificate also serves as a demonstration of their aptitude in successfully completing safety training and passing a skills assessment.

Program Provides Peer Mentorship Opportunities

Kali Byers, a Behavior Technician at the WISCA location in Bridgeville, shared that students are not only given an opportunity to build their vocational skills, but also their social interaction skills. Students have a chance to interact with peers in other classrooms, those of different ages than themselves, and students they may not otherwise have any interaction with on a day-to-day basis.

What initially started as an opportunity for older students in the WISCA program quickly caught the attention of their younger peers. Now, the Coffee Cart serves as a peer mentorship opportunity too as more experienced students show younger workers how it works!

In Kali’s words, “the coffee cart gets students smiling and excited to do their job.” She loves to see her students smiling and having positive social interactions with their peers!

Learn how the WISCA program helps prepare students for their transition into adulthood and offers therapeutic academic support for students with Autism!