Amy Cunningham
Twenty-six Gardner Edgerton High School students captured first place as a team in the 16th annual Job Olympics held at Johnson County Community College the first week of April.
The competition is intended to help prepare students with cognitive disabilities who are on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for life after high school.
“Hopefully (the competition) motivates them to improve their job-related skills – the students work hard,” said GEHS transition coordinator Dave Switzer.  He said his group starts working on skills for the Olympics as soon as the school year begins in August.
“One of our goals is to make our students employable – to equip them with as many skills before they leave us. The competition is fun; it is a fun way to learn some important things. It is one part of a programming push to make our students employable.”
The GEHS team faced off against 470 competitors from 35 area high schools in 28 different areas.  Competition included events like keyboarding and word processing, filling out a job application, job interviewing, folding napkins, rolling silverware, wrapping hamburgers, bussing tables, janitorial-type work, folding towels and wash cloths, product sorting and labeling, packaging, grocery sacking, shelf stocking, check writing, accounting, counting change and message taking.
“These are a lot of things that might be a typical job for a student with cognitive disabilities might do when they graduate,” said Kathy Kennedy, one of the event’s organizers and CLEAR Program Coordinator at Johnson County Community College.   “We’re practicing real life skills.”
According to Beverly Silvers, a transition specialist with the Shawnee Mission school district and another organizer, the competition is a great way for students with exceptionalities to compete in areas where they have the opportunity to perform well.  It is also a fun day outside of the classroom.
“They look forward to the day from the start of school every year and they feel a great sense of accomplishment that day – even if they don’t win a medal. A lot of the kids know each other from Special Olympics, so it is a day where they get to see their friends.  It’s really just a wonderful day,” Silvers explained.
Performing well is not new to the Trailblazer squad.  Two years ago students from GEHS took third place, last year the team finished second.
“It was a great day for our team.  The students worked very hard in preparing and I’m proud of them,” Switzer commended his group’s efforts.