Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Business 101 for Students with Special Needs

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. -- Calculating the best-priced cookie dough may be a small challenge for the executives of Diamond Enterprises, but making eye contact while paying the cashier is an enormous one.

Diamond Enterprises is a sandwich, salad and snack business run by students with autism and severe learning disabilities at a New Jersey high school where this year 700 orders, most placed by teachers, were served.

The program at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, is among a wave of innovative programs in public schools throughout the nation that go beyond the traditional classroom to develop life skills among special-education students, many of whom were once bused out of their home district to far more costly programs.

Special-ed students can have difficulty with human interaction, so learning manners and acceptable behaviors such as eye contact is less of a social nicety and more of a survival skill.

"The social piece is at least as important as learning to read and do math," said Eugene Porta, a teacher who oversees the nine students running Diamond Enterprises. "We need to help them develop skills to function in the community."

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