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WeBC program helps special needs students at DLHS prepare for work life after graduation

WeBC job coach Joanne Leinen, left, helps students Isaac Kuether and Nicholai Ohm as they put together kindergarten handbooks in the new WeBC room inside Detroit Lakes High School. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 3
WeBC Student Mandy Despiegler gets ready to make some copies at the Detroit Lakes High School. WeBC students perform many office jobs at schools around the Detroit Lakes district, as well as the county courthouse, local nursing homes and the public library. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 3
WeBC Students (front row) Craig Chosa; (second row from left) Samantha Schouviller, Nicholai Ohm, Isaac Kuether, Mandy Despiegler, Maddie Ziemer, Jasman Voeltz; (third row) Bradley Blanchard, Dane Bellefeuille, Derek Hanson and Austin Genz gather at their new work space at Detroit Lakes High School. Missing from the group photo is Matthew Padrta. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 3

Does your business have stacks of pencils that need sharpening, envelopes that need stuffing or labeling, laminating, shredding or recycling jobs that just keep piling up because there aren’t enough hours in the day?

The Work Experience Business Center, or WeBC as they are better known, may just be able to help with these and many other basic tasks.

“It’s a program for special needs students specifically,” says Detroit Lakes High School teacher Wendy Fritz, who first approached her students and fellow special education instructors with the idea this past fall.

“The kids were so excited when I presented the idea to them,” Fritz said.

Since October, a baker’s dozen DLHS students have joined the WeBC program, where they are taught to perform a variety of office tasks and housekeeping duties for clients including several Becker County government offices, the Detroit Lakes Public Library, both local nursing homes and of course, the school district itself.

“The response from the students and teachers has been phenomenal,” said Fritz, noting that as the program expanded, they were able to move beyond working in the various school district buildings out into the community.

“The library, nursing homes, courthouse — they’ve all had a great response to the students as well,” she added.

Part of the reason is that they respond to their assigned tasks with such enthusiasm, she said.

“They’re genuinely excited to work,” Fritz continued. “They have a strong sense of responsibility and pride in the work they do — and their attitudes are positively infectious.”

The program is meant to allow the students the opportunity to work in an environment that simulates a real-life office setting as closely as possible, she said.

They even made two of their own web commercials, which were filmed and uploaded to YouTube this fall.

“It was fun,” said WeBC student worker Isaac Kuether, who added that he enjoyed the opportunity to memorize and say his lines in front of the camera.

“I liked being in the commercial,” agreed Dane Bellefeuille, adding that it was fun to see himself on the finished video for the first time.

“They’ve gotten a lot of compliments from the businesses that have seen the commercial,” said Joanne Leinen, one of the job coaches who accompany the students to their various work venues.

“It’s so easy for me to go out with these kids — the teachers and paraprofessionals have taught them so well,” she added. “They’re all so well behaved and enthusiastic about their work. I think it’s a great thing.”

Isaac said he liked working with Joanne at Rossman Elementary, where he did lots of office tasks like folding and shredding papers.

“I like shelving the books in the young adult section,” said Jasman Voeltz, who is the WeBC worker assigned to the library.

“They just love her there,” said Fritz, adding that the courthouse staff also loves working with Bradley Blanchard, who does a lot of paper shredding and helps clean the books in the recorder’s office.

He said he likes working at the courthouse because “it makes the people there happy.”

Maddie Ziemer, who works at Roosevelt Elementary, said her favorite part of the job is “to show respect to others and have them respect you.”

Though many of their jobs involve going out to the various workplaces around town, Fritz said they also will take on freelance jobs such as assembling workbooks or envelope stuffing.

“We’ve had such great interest in what we do that I asked if we could get a permanent location to do our work,” she said. “We were just given the old concession stand space (at the high school).”

The space is ideal, she added, because the window can be opened up to allow people at the high school to watch the students at work and interact with them.

“It will be like a work site for the students, with a time clock and everything,” she added, noting that they just finished cleaning and preparing their new office space to begin accepting jobs this past week.

“We have about a three-day turnaround on most jobs,” Fritz continued, adding, “It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

“It’s fun for them, they love it and they do a really great job.”

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454