A helping Hand

First hour, Monday through Thursday, Freshman Matthew VanEerden pushes a cart filled with office supplies down the hallways of Wauwatosa West. He hardly seems to take ten steps before he is greeted by a friend. As he passes classrooms filled with students, many of them looking less than eager to be at school, he often peers in. When he sees a friend, Matthew waves, and the student brightens.
However, he is not there just to say hello. Matthew, guided by either Jenny Sunder or Mackenzie Hoffman, both West Juniors and student assistants, is on a mission. He checks the manila folder hanging on each door for forms filled out by teachers needing classroom supplies or copies. This is all part of a class offered by the Special Education department called Careers class.

Careers class is a way for students with cognitive disabilities to learn what teacher Ruth Geis calls “soft job skills”. The goal of the class is to help students develop skills needed for jobs they may later hold. “They learn how to follow directions, responsibility, common processes, and how to interact with people” said Geis. The students are also coached on how to fill out a résumé and job application, something that would greatly benefit any student.

Matthew helps to stock the supply cart each Monday morning with any materials that may have been depleted the week before. Using a list consisting of both words and pictures, he gathers the supplies requested for on the forms. “I like the supplies better,” said Matthew. “It’s fun.”

He also makes copies for teachers. As he meticulously lined up the pages of a book for copying, Geis said, “The students learn how to use the copiers also. Different copiers do different things. Once copies have been made, they are placed in the teachers’ mailboxes in the main office.”

At the end of the hour, when all the copies and supplies have been delivered, Matthew settles down to his studies. His job may be done, but he has done much more than just deliver office supplies. Every person he met in the hallway, no matter how surly they may have appeared moments before, walked away smiling.