Tue April 25, 2023
It was all in a day’s work. West Aurora High School special education students easily took on the duties of maintenance and parks staff as they tackled trucks and tables with guidance from Batavia Park District staff.
At The Lacher Maintenance Facility, staff instructed groups of students on how to check tires, fluids and safety features on a truck; how to properly detail a truck; and how to quickly assemble a table using tools.
Their visit last week was coordinated by West Aurora High school teacher Ellen Hernandez and included two programs that help prepare students for life after high school: Reaching Independence through Supported Education, which supports students with intellectual and other disabilities, and SPIRIT, which supports students with autism. Both programs focus on teaching life and job skills, Hernandez noted.
“Once or twice a month we go on community trips to focus on these skills,” she said. Trips to the maintenance facility started in 2019, facilitated by Hernandez’s father, Eric Lacher, retired director of parks and properties for Batavia Park District.
“He suggested working together to create job experiences for students, and it has evolved into what it is today,” she said. In the following years, students worked at the maintenance facility and at West Main Park, learning the role of the maintenance and parks staff.
When students participate in on-the-job activities, they build confidence, Hernandez said. “We work daily on developing job skills in the classroom but there is nothing like actual hands-on experiences. Even if a few students don’t enjoy the activities, having that experience shows them it’s something they don’t want to pursue in their future.”
However, most of the students enjoyed the work at the park district and “they now know that a job like this exists and they could research and look into working somewhere like the park district in their future,” Hernandez said.
“But the real value is having students work with role models like the park district staff,” she said. “Interacting and working with staff helps them practice so many skills, such as interpersonal relationships, communication, following directions, using new tools, trying new things, receiving feedback and constructive criticism.”
Park district staff benefit from the exercise by honing their training skills and having an opportunity to exemplify park district values and teach them to students, said Superintendent of Parks Alex Macias.
“By teaching these kids how to do some of these tasks that we do daily, we in turn learn how to effectively communicate and demonstrate directions to others, which is a huge part of our daily lives in and out of work,” he said.
Opportunities for mentoring also arise from the exercises. Last year, Park Technician Payton Anselme discovered common ground with West Aurora sophomore Victor Guzman through chatting while detailing a truck, and they kept in touch over social media, Hernandez said. They reconnected this year, and Guzman was thrilled to work with his role model.
“I hope that I can go back and see him (Anselme) again in the future,” Guzman said. “I really loved the trip. I wish I could work over there.”
For Anselme, the opportunity to mentor was priceless. “I was excited to see Victor again,” he said. “I never imagined how close we’d become, and I’m honored to have him look up to me. He asked about working with us in the future and I truly hope we have a spot for him because he’d make a great addition to the team.”
“It was rewarding to see students’ focus, passion and personalities shine during the work day,” Macias said. “They reminded us that we can have fun doing just about any task at work and to take pride in what we do as a park district.”
For more information on our Batavia Park District programs and events, call (630) 879-5235 or visit bataviaparks.org.