MATTAWA — Students in Lisa Lemons class at Mattawa Junior High are learning valuable lessons that will help them develop employable traits while protecting the environment they live in through a recycling program that was instituted at the beginning of January.
“For kids with disabilities who are in our life skills class the focus in addition to academics is to help prepare them to find work after high school,” Lemons said. “We’re just getting their feet wet at this level — it’s (preparation for work) a bigger focus at the high school level.”
Lemons said each classroom at the junior high has a blue recycle container that is put out every Monday morning for collection. “My students each have their own route of rooms to stop by and pick up materials. Afterward they check the room off a list and then transport the stuff by wagon back to my classroom.”
The materials the students collect are then transported by Lemons to Elm View, a nonprofit recycle organization in Ellensburg that employs adults with disabilities.
“It’s difficult for me to take everything we collect in my car so we are hoping the school district will provide a vehicle for us,” Lemons said. “We’d like to eventually start something like Elm View here as there are no recycling facilities in Mattawa.”
Andrew Wattenburger is the liaison between the school district and the Mattawa business community. He helps find companies that are willing to employ special needs kids.
“I assist the transition process from the school to the workplace,” Wattenburger said. “We help develop skills they need to be as independent as they can possibly be. They start working for the school district and learn the responsibility of dressing appropriately, of being on time etc. Eventually I’ll get them out into the community and help find jobs they might like or be interested in.”
The program, Wattenburger said, has been tried a couple of time before, but he’s taking another run at it and this time feels it will be more successful because business in the community have been very receptive to the idea of helping the kids develop the needed work skills.
“I’ve been able to communicate with a lot of business owners and a lot of them love the idea,” he said. “We’re just trying to get things finalized so the kids can go out for an hour or two during the school day.”
Chabely Diaz, a para-educator with the Wahluke School District, helps students improve reading skills and teaches them how to deal with finances and fill out job applications and W2 forms.
Lemons said her students may not comprehend the entire concept of recycling, but they do enjoy going to the different classrooms and collecting the materials.
“They get to interact with people, but they may not understand exactly how they are helping the environment,” Lemon said. “But they do know they are helping because people are always telling them thank you for collecting the recycling material and that they are doing such a great job.”