Career Job-Hunter District 203 Educator Scouts out Employment for Special Needs Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Kari Allen Daily Herald Staff Writer

Mary Onorad is never timid when it comes to inquiring about a job.

When she comes across a business that seems like a good fit, she talks to a manager or owner on the spot.

Then she tells them about the students she works with.

Onorad, a vocational coordinator in Naperville Unit District 203, tells potential employers about particular students who would mesh well with a certain work setting.

She talks about students who would love to work in a music store or a video store. She describes students who want to work in offices, restaurants, clothing stores or libraries.

"She's very good at finding jobs for everyone," said Breanne Fahey, a vocational coordinator for the multi-needs program at Naperville Central High School. "She's very persuasive."

Onorad is constantly searching for new leads, trying to track down different jobs.

And, often, she helps land them.

The program

Onorad has worked in District 203 for 10 years, moving here after teaching 20 years in Dayton, Ohio.

She and other members of her department work in the Secondary Transitional Experience Program, or STEP. The optional program helps prepare 18- to 21-year-old special needs students - who already have earned their credits to graduate - for the workplace and life beyond high school.

Staff members help find potential jobs, then work with parents and students to set up the details.

The staff helps students prepare for interviews, consider appropriate dress for the workplace and think through issues that might arise at their jobs. When students get jobs, staff members regularly visit the students at work to observe their progress.

The students typically work part-time and spend parts of their days at Naperville North High School, where the program is housed. Students also volunteer in the area and go on trips to the library or other places.

When they're in the classroom at North, students and staff talk about life skills such as budgeting, doing laundry and figuring out transportation to work.

Staff members cover details such as punching a time card and communicating with other employees.

"I just think the whole thing is a really wonderful transition," said Russetta Rauch, whose 19-year-old son, Doug, is in the program.

Doug Rauch currently does custodial work at Eddie Bauer in downtown Naperville.

"This (program) gives him a lot more confidence that he can handle it on his own," Russetta Rauch said.

Always on the go

Whenever Russetta Rauch has a question about the program, she calls Onorad, sometimes at home.

"She'll talk us through it until we feel comfortable," Russetta Rauch said. …