JUST SAYIN’-A few years ago, I was introduced to a wonderful public school program that I am certain has few equals. It is called the JoaquinMiller Career and Transition Center (part of the LAUSD system), is located in Reseda, and serves most of the San Fernando Valley. Its mission is to teach “entry level job skills to students [ages 18-22] who are capable and hirable.” When we think about it, every person deserves a hand up, especially the mentally challenged. This school exists to fulfill that goal!
I look forward to each visit I make there because of the wonderful staff and charming young people with whom I interact. But there is one teacher, in particular, to whom I am especially drawn, Duke Weiss, who founded his program about 5 years ago. More later on that. . .
The Miller School (MCTC) itself got its start some years ago, teaching academics to challenged students. Later, it morphed into a vocational training school which offers a wide variety of classes, some of which include auto detailing (they even did my car), furniture refinishing and repair (think of that scratched table top), graphic design, landscaping (what about going drought-resistant, native plants?), media skills—to name a few. One class is particularly useful for those of us who are all thumbs: The “You Buy It—We Build It” class can put together the surprise bicycle or the family room wall unit that might otherwise cause us to pull our hair out.
Then there is the culinary arts and baking class (a small-scale Cordon Bleu)—they have opportunities to cater for a variety of LAUSD and other events and for you. During the school week, the students from this program prepare meals for purchase for staff and snacks for students and in this way, can earn some money.
The 220 students cycle through most of these classes while they attend Miller. The culmination point is when students receive their GED (most, though, get a Certificate of Completion with an individual Assessment of each student’s capabilities).
The ultimate idea is for each person to be work-ready, to be able (to the best of their abilities) to be self-sufficient. Though there are post-Miller programs that these graduates can attend in order to continue their education (New Horizons and Tierra Sol, for example), many of these young adults are prepared to work as Courtesy Clerks at places like Target, Vons, Ralphs, and Albertson’s. Others can work at locations like Goodwill. Many other businesses and individuals find they can also offer these graduates employment opportunities because of the skills they have acquired at MCTC.
Miller has earned such a national and world-wide reputation that representatives from other countries (such as S. Korea, Japan, and Wales) have come to visit the facility in order to determine how their own schools can emulate this very successful program.
The class that Mr. Weiss teaches is called “We Trade-e-Trade on eBay.” In the 5 years since its inception, the students have netted $34,000 through the sale on eBay of some 3000 items. The students meet daily for the entire school year for the two-hour class (there are two such sessions available each day in order to reach more students).
There is constant work available for these young people and it is a joy to see just how excited they get from completing their tasks. Students at MCTC are taught the relationship between effort expended and compensation received. The entire “eBay” team feels a greater level of satisfaction from the work-reward experience. Each net goal is usually an aggregate $500 between Weiss’s two classes at which time (after overhead—eBay gets 20%) students split the pot and are given an eBay credit of $15. Then, from the profits they earn, they can purchase a wide range of items they otherwise are not likely to own: a variety of clothing (coats, sweaters, sportswear), music CDs, and videos—a wealth of “fun, teenagey stuff.”
Most students immediately spend their “salaries” on the products geared to their interests. There is a sweet anecdote I heard about one of the pupils: This young man banked all his earnings over the years (never spending a cent on himself) but when he left for Utah, he purchased an old-fashioned dial/rotary telephone for his class in appreciation for all he had learned from it and for the friendships he had made there.
Though these young people (14 per class) read and write at approximately the 6th or 7th grade level, they enter Weiss’s class with the basic academic skills and tools they need to succeed. They learn how to sort through the widely varied donations (about 10,000 items a year). Anyone can donate, but this teacher has a number of regular donors upon whom he depends the most.
Students research the value and set the price for each item and determine the shipping charges (they themselves even carry the sold items to the Post Office for mailing). They keep track of all transactions and are taught how to use the PayPal method of payment for customers (no cash is involved).
Under the supervision of this teacher and his two trained assistants, students build that all-important work ethic. They are taught the communication skills needed to work with customers (all contact is on-line). They acquire the very valuable and essential skill of inter-student cooperation as well as that between adult and student.
Mr. Weiss has been teaching special needs students for years. He is one of the most highly motivated, unique, imaginative, and gifted teachers whom I have ever met. One can easily detect the excitement in his voice when he speaks enthusiastically about what his class means to him. This program for him is “a fun way to teach kids how to work,” and from it he draws tremendous satisfaction.
I only hope that someday when he retires, there will be another instructor (equally dedicated) to step into his shoes (if that is possible) and continue on the path he began.
As for these wonderful, hopeful students and their teachers, Charles Dickens would say, “God bless them every one!”
For more information, you may contact the school or Mr. Weiss himself:
● Miller School: 818-885-1646
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 13 Issue 9
Pub: Jan 30, 2015