Mamie D. Lee Provides Students with Job Opportunities at Local Work Sites 

May 26, 2011


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Students get the opportunity to learn the different aspects involved in coordinating and setting up events.
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At the catering center, students learn event management skills as they help coordinate special programs for large crowds.

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It’s Friday morning at the Navy Yard Catering Conference Center. The room is abuzz with the sounds of vacuuming, polishing and setting up silverware and prepping the food for more than 300 attendees that will attend an event later that night.

Meanwhile, over at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the galleries need to be cleaned and stock rooms need to be stocked for the museum’s opening in 30 minutes.

It seems like a typical Friday morning for any employee at the conference center or the museum – and it is. What is unique is that the workers actually are students from the Mamie D. Lee School, a DCPS school for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Four days a week, there are about seven male students who work at the Navy Yard site, and the same number of female students who work at the National Air and Space Museum.

For nearly 20 years, the Mamie D. Lee School has partnered with organizations such as the Navy Yard, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington Hospital Center and the National Museum of the American Indian to provide its students with hands-on job experience.

“The biggest thing the kids learn is how to communicate and see what it’s like outside the school,” said Tim Spinner, a paraprofessional with DCPS who has worked with students at the Navy Yard site for the past 20 years.

On this particular Friday morning, students sit at a table in the conference center cleaning silverware. Two are working together to set up a dance floor, and there are a couple students in the back cleaning rest rooms, pulling out tables and prepping food with the chef.

Tyrone Cobb, a teacher at Mamie D. Lee who works with the students at the site, said these students are learning life lessons that they wouldn’t necessarily learn in the classroom.

“The students are learning to work together, to follow multi-step directions, and to get into a routine and the mindset of, ‘I need to start taking care of myself and not depend on my family to take care of me,’” said Mr. Cobb.

As the students work, they talk about what they have learned about being a good employee.

“You need to shake hands, have good eye contact, be friends with each other and listen to your teacher,” said Quenton Jones, an 18-year-old student at Mamie D. Lee.

“To get a job it’s important to work as a team,” said Crevante Givens, 21 years old. “I have to act like a young man.”

In working at the sites, students get the experience of writing a resume, interviewing and working with a diverse group of people. In the past, sites have hired the students after they graduate.

“That’s the ultimate goal – we look at employment,” said Mr. Spinner. “If they can’t get a job here, then they know how to go out and apply somewhere else.”

At the National Air and Space Museum, the students spend the morning cleaning a gallery of the museum, and then they use one of the museum staff’s conference rooms for a lesson.

This week, the students are planning a cookout for a Memorial Day. They flip through the store circulators and answer questions from their teacher, Ms. Cheryl Gillette, about which foods should be at a cookout and how much money it will cost.

After this assignment, the students will go to CVS, purchase something and then later learn how to read a receipt with other classmates.

The transition team at DCPS is focused on providing students with disabilities with an individualized transition process. By educating students about their post-secondary education, employment and independent living options, they can better choose a career path that will provide them with a competitive wage.

It’s programs like Mamie D. Lee’s that provide students with the opportunity to learn, grow and understand their responsibilities after graduation.

“When they leave Mamie, they will have a combination of working experience and inclusion in the community,” said Charmaine Hawkins, a paraprofessional at Mamie D. Lee. “We are taking inclusion out of the box and instead of just doing inclusion in the classroom, we are incorporating the students into the community.”

Ashley Lucas is 22 years old and will be graduating from Mamie D. Lee this year. She said her next step is college.

“I want to study music,” she said.

“Their self-esteem is just outstanding,” said Mr. Spinner. “They just feel so good about themselves. They all were shy and have just blossomed in this program.”

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