Welcome to Post High
Special education services continue for 18-21 year olds in Shawnee Mission Post High Program
April 19, 2023
“Every Monday is a party, every week. The students come in and they’re so pumped up and excited to see their friends. Their energy, their kindness, their empathy is just so cool.”
Lisa Primrose’s eyes lit up as she recounted the extraordinary qualities of her students. She is a teacher in SMSD’s Post High Program, which is housed at South and serves 18-21 year olds from across the district with intellectual disabilities. Post High students received special education services throughout high school and are continuing to work on IEP goals related to employability and independent living.
“Beginning in middle school, we look at a student’s skill set and what their goal is for after high school, and we discuss that with students and their families,” high school special education teacher Julie Hochler said.
The young adults that attend Post High are treated exactly as they should be – as adults. Everyone, including students and teachers, is referred to on a first-name basis. Students can pick where to eat their lunch and whether to get it from the cafeteria, make it in the kitchen or bring it from home. Students who travel to worksites wear uniforms (gray polos stitched with the district logo) to encourage professionalism and pride in their work.
“It’s amazing to see how successful students can be and to see them realize they’ve got a lot of great skills to offer our community,” Post High Transition Specialist Kelly Chapman said.
That success is thanks to a two-part approach that is tailored to each individual’s needs. For half the day, Post High students focus on independent living skills and community-based activities; for the other half, they work jobs.
“Our students have a wide range of abilities, so we aim for as much independence as we can possibly get,” Primrose, who works with medically fragile students, said. “It’s so cool to watch students’ attention to detail, such as when they’re working on grooming skills. They focus on getting the toothpaste cap off, getting the right amount of toothpaste on the brush, and using the motor skills they have.”
Students with intellectual disabilities have to work harder to complete tasks that may come easily to their peers, so developing their independence starts in high school special education. Students in Hochler’s classes learn about shopping, budgeting, cooking and personal hygiene.
“We make sure students know how to take care of themselves, like zipping up their jackets and dressing for the weather,” Hochler said. “We also do many things that focus on interpersonal skills and taking directions, such as delivering a message to the office or finding the nurse by themselves.”
Job experience is a central part of the curriculum both in high school special education and Post High. High school students have the option to take a class called Career Explorations, where they try different types of jobs in the community.
“One of the places we went to was Michael’s, and it was a great experience,” Hochler said. “They learned how to stock shelves and use a scanner to take inventory.”
High school special education students can also take a class called Job Skills. Students complete in-building work such as restocking copy machines, taking out recycling, and designing logos with a Cricut Machine. These jobs are one way intellectually disabled students can be a thriving part of the school community.
“Our students designed the tiles that have teachers’ names outside their classrooms, and some of them deliver coffee to teachers on Friday mornings,” Hochler said.
Just as they did in high school, Post High students have the option to work jobs onsite or in the community. These roles are just as inclusive. Some nonverbal students use cue cards to get directions and communicate with their teachers. Others thrive in quiet environments, so they complete tasks like sorting mail and organizing money in designated classrooms.
“We’re very attentive to our students’ needs,” Primrose said. “One day it might take more prompting to do something, so we ask them ‘What kind of day are you having?’ to gauge what they can do.”
Post High students that leave the building to work do so for a couple hours each day. Along with a teacher, paraprofessional, or job coach, they commute to one of many local businesses that partners with Post High.
Job Coach Becky Johnson says collaborating with businesses benefits both the students and the companies.
“[Asking a company to partner with Post High] is not really a sales pitch, because most local organizations are thrilled to be part of a program like this,” Johnson said. “Not only are we providing them with labor, but also with a potential employee.”
Employing persons with disabilities fosters a sense of inclusion and enhances customer experience. The Chick-Fil-A on 95th street employs two Post High students during the school week and is willing to hire them after they graduate from the program.
“The person we coordinate with at Chick-fil-A is called the ‘Director of Positive Influence’, and he takes such good care of our students,” Johnson said. “He knows that everyone’s day is a little brighter when they see our students, from the customers to the fry cook to the cashier.”
At restaurants, the kitchen team assigns Post High students with tasks that can be done without a food handler’s permit. Students like Samuel Doran, who works at Chick-fil-A, create salad kits and build kids’ meals. Seth Dujakovich, who works at The Big Biscuit, cleans tables and chairs.
“It’s busy when I work,” he said. “I clean after people eat.”
Seth also enjoys the food at his jobsite.
“The biscuits and gravy, that’s the best.” he said with a big smile.
Post High students work with their caseworkers to decide which job location would fit them best. They look for jobs that are routine-oriented and can translate to future employment. A student’s IEP team combines what goals the student needs to work on with what they are passionate about and where they are comfortable.
One student, who is nonverbal, loves animals, so he walks dogs and spends time with pets at Pet Supplies Plus. Students who are passionate about fashion get jobs at Old Navy and the SMSD Clothing Exchange.
“Sometimes somebody may really want to do a certain job, but they need experience working on a cash register or stocking a shelf,” Chapman said, “We know that sometimes our first job isn’t a job we love, and the same is true for these young adults. But we tailor their assignments to their strengths as much as possible.”
A select number of students work in a program called Project Search at AdventHealth. After completing an application and assessment process, they work with an instructor and participate in three, 10-week internships at the hospital. It is the only jobsite that Post High students work at all day.
“In Project SEARCH, students work in the kitchen, clean laundry, prepare beds for surgery patients and collect lab specimens,” Chapman said. “It’s a great place because working at AdventHealth is so much more than an entry level job. It’s a job they can be employed at and keep for a very long time, because it has benefits and it pays well.”
Developing the skills necessary to maintain a job as an adult requires time and patience for persons with intellectual disabilities. They might have specific challenges with motor skills, social interaction, or following multistep directions. Post High students from across the area, along with special education students in high school and middle school, attend an event called Job Olympics to craft these skills with a little healthy competition. This year, it was held at the Center for Academic Achievement (CAA) in late March.
“The events translate to real jobs,” Johnson said. “So one of the events is being able to tell if something on a shelf is expired, which would be helpful in a grocery store.”
Students practice their skills all year to be ready for the competition. Events vary by the number of steps and level of focus required. Students are not only judged on how accurately and efficiently they complete their task, but also on their eye contact and interaction with the judges.
“Students could compete in coin recognition, setting tables or completing a job interview,” Hochler, who sends her high school students to Job Olympics, said. “They have tons of events, so we look at what would be a good employability goal for a student to work towards.”
In Post High, students know that a go-getter attitude is just as important as practical skills. As they walk to their classrooms, it’s hard to miss a bright yellow bulletin board with the words ‘Get Caught Working Hard’.
“If we notice a student has been working especially hard and having a positive attitude, they get their picture on the wall, a little handwritten note and a gift card that has been donated from a local business,” Johnson said. “It helps provide some positive reinforcement, because they deserve that.”
The board is decorated with the faces of students beaming with pride as they show off their hard work. Written in the corner are the names of all the community partners students work with during the 2022-23 school year, including DoubleTree Hotels, Milburn Country Club, and MicroCenter. There are also reminders for the students to be dependable employees and advocate for themselves.
“It’s hard to find people that are putting forth their best effort every time,” Primrose said, “but these students really embody that. They give you all they have, every day.”
On March 21, 2023, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly visited Shawnee Mission South to speak about special education. Staff and students from Post High services met with Kelly.