Life skills program begun in school has far-reaching impact
Inside every school in America are students of many backgrounds, skill levels, abilities and disabilities. Some students cruise through school, excelling at whatever they attempt while others get lost in the shuffle.
Nine years ago, special education instructor Pam Goliher began baking special recipe biscuits by fellow teacher Stacey Mitchell’s in her life skills class as a way of teaching her students with disabilities what it takes to run a successful business. But the biscuits didn’t stay in class. Soon Goliher’s teaching of biscuit-making and business joined “Futures,” the district’s vocational program.
Targeted to 18-21-year-old post-grads with disabilities, the Futures program’s purpose is to provide opportunities for students to learn valuable workplace skills. Participants volunteer throughout the community, working at grocery stores, coffee shops, the food bank, Loaves and Fishes, and assisted living homes.
Biscuits are being made, but where do they go? That’s where the Battleground Barkery comes in, a business run by the kids for the dogs. The Barkery is the life skills class realized, putting into practice the realities of developing, making, packaging, marketing, and distributing a product.
Meet Josh Loftus
The self-titled CEO of The Barkery in Battle Ground, WA, Josh learned life skills while in school, and has continued with the Futures program in the three years since graduating. During this time, The Barkery and Josh have grown a great deal. He exudes energy when talking about the experience.
“Back then [three years ago] the business was small, but we’ve worked really hard and grown so much, especially in the last two years. We make these biscuits so students with disabilities can see the difference between real work and made-up work.”
Josh has Asperger’s, a form of autism, and is highly intelligent but struggles socially. “This job has taught me things that are important to run a successful business, such as being friendly and making eye contact. The Barkery has given me a job I love and can do a good job at.,” he says. Other students in the operation have autism, learning disabilities, social disabilities, and cerebral palsy.
Those who work at The Barkery develop many real world skills.
The Dodge House . . . vocational classroom and The Barkery headquarters. If you’ve ever mass-produced baked goods, you know the process can be a circus: ingredients spill, the mixer throws batter, and throughout is the act of juggling dishes clean and dirty, cookie sheets, and oven mitts.
When Josh and Futures teacher Jodie Rogers were asked what it’s like, they affirmed that the process is labor intensive and time consuming. The dough is made in a commercial mixer and then rolled out. Students cut out large and small bone-shaped cookies, then place them on sheets for baking in two steps: a fast bake and a slow bake. The students socialize while they work. Once baked for many hours and cooled, they package the biscuits for distribution.
All students participate in the making, cutting, and packaging of biscuits. The teachers call the contacts to arrange delivery times, and then Josh and his assistants get it done. Asked about his most difficult experience so far, Josh’s reply might surprise you: it was delivering biscuits in a small, old car that had little room for biscuits and students.
The majority of production is done at the high school, including mixing, rolling, cutting, and baking, by students with disabilities in the life skills course. Following high school, Futures participants must agree to certain criteria, including volunteer work in the community. At the end of every school year, students are given the opportunity to work at a different jobsite, including The Barkery, which has now grown to regularly provide biscuits not only locally, but nationwide.
Josh says he too has grown. He says establishing customer contacts and making deliveries fosters his continually growing social skills. Thanks to his skill in managing spreadsheets, tracking orders, revenue, and expenditures, The Barkery’s business side has flourished as well.
When asked what he would like Spot readers to know about the program, Josh’s response was simple. He says he’s had a lot of joy meeting pets while on deliveries, and that it’s also helped him having a job that benefits pets. Like most of us, Josh is an animal lover. He says, “It was very difficult to find a job in the community that I could do because of my social limitations, and The Barkery has been a perfect fit for me.”
You can help The Battle Ground Barkery and more students like Josh by purchasing their “Doggie Biscotti” at local establishments or ordering direct. Biscuits are all-natural with no preservatives, no wheat, and are available in three sizes. Visit The Barkery online at bgbarkery.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/Battle-Ground-Barkery.
Kennedy Morgan is a native Oregonian, customer service manager, and freelance writer who shares her home with her two sons, her Great Dane, Vegas, Pomeranian, Leo, Bearded Dragon, Godzilla, and three uber-friendly kitties. Kennedy is an active member of agility clubs and the Portland Great Dane Community. In her spare time she enjoys agility, hiking, biking, and attending her kids’ sporting events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.