A unique program has brought together Deer Valley’s small businesses with students with disabilities to give students skills for successful employment long into the future.

Individuals with disabilities are employed at far lower rates than those without. In the state of Arizona, the employment rates for individuals with disabilities is 34.1 percent, compared to 72.6 percent for those without.

The Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) Transition from School to Work (TSW) Program provides students with career exploration, work-based learning opportunities, assistance with job searches, and more. “In developing partnerships with community businesses, our students gain hands-on real world skills in the natural employment setting. Additionally, we are able to educate businesses about the skills and talents these individuals bring to the companies,” said Stephanie Johnson, Ed.D, Transition Coordinator/TSW.

Elevate Coffee’s Troy Hailpern connected with a school staff member at a DVUSD business partner networking event. “I was looking to support our local high school with the skills and resources that Elevate Coffee has to offer. Great people in the district make it a pleasure to give what we can,” said Hailpern.

That connection led to the creation of the “Eagle Grind Coffee Cart,” which serves coffee and tea from Elevate. Students take orders, sell, and deliver to teachers and staff at Sandra Day O’Connor High School. Students learn food safety skills, money skills, and time management.

Senior Nina Coppola said, “This experience teaches me how to work as a team member, helps me sharpen my customer service skills and gives me real life experience I will be able to use in the future.”

“The students are able to demonstrate skills that we work on in the classroom. The value in these business partnerships is that students are also exposed to new skills that they can only learn in a work setting,” said TSW Senior Teacher Allison Caylor.

“I feel like my self-esteem and confidence have increased. We are providing a service the teachers enjoy, and that makes me feel happy,” said Coppola.

Senior Bryanna Baker says her work experience at the Men’s Warehouse also built her confidence. “I have learned the ins and outs of the store and have had hands-on experiences. After seeing that my qualifications fit their expectations for the job, I applied and was hired!”

“The work based learning opportunities have provided hands-on learning experiences for the students in the field of their interest. The students came back from visiting Sweeteez excited about the baking field,” said TSW Technician Renee Manley-Medic.

Sweeteez is new bakery in North Phoenix run by three sisters. “One of our goals in opening our store was to be a community-minded bakery. Our partnership has been one way we’re working towards that goal. The students have done an excellent job,” said younger sister Chelsea Jenkins.

“It has helped us incredibly, by freeing up some of our time to work on other aspects of the business. We hope to continue to grow with DVUSD and who knows — maybe some of these students will be on the Sweeteez team!”