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At Laguna Beach High School, Special Education instructor Mindy Hawkins and her students have had an amazing year filled with a range of activities that promote both vocational skills and individual growth.
“I think that I have the best job in the world. It’s the best kept secret that working with these kids is amazing. It’s like Saturday Night Live in here. These kids are so funny, and every day we get to do something different. We are never bored, sitting in desks writing notes,” said Hawkins.
This year, the kids were asked to put on a number called “Breaker Buddies” in the dance show, Plexus. Jake Dameshek performed a solo with his friends Natalia Law and Ariana Nugent as backup dancers.
“At first, I didn’t want to go up. I was a little bit nervous, but my dad told me to face my fears,” said Dameshek.
Jake is also in the video production class and is doing stop animation videos with Legos.
“They are about criminals breaking the rules in school,” said Dameshek.
He will be entering his videos into the film festival this year.
“Lucas Escobar is amazingly skilled and is in the multi-media production class with Scott Wittkop. He has excelled,” said Hawkins.
As a part of their program here at LBHS, many of the kids have started to work at local businesses where they get hands-on experience in the workforce.
“The kids fill out applications for the jobs they want. On Tuesdays, we have two kids work at the Assistance League, where they man the register and put clothes out on the racks. Others work at Hotel Laguna where they set up for banquets, clean menus and roll silverware. Natalia is a professional napkin folder; she’s the best,” said Hawkins.
Another group of students gets to work at BJ’s Pizza downtown.
“We make the boxes,” said Dameshek.
Some work at the White House where they fill salt shakers and help out the staff.
“They really are lucky because, during their high school years, they are getting a lot of job experience that they can put on their resumes,” said Hawkins.
The students have had the chance to cook meals at the Assistance League, as well.
“The kids have to come up with a menu and figure out how much it will cost. We walk to Ralph’s and buy the groceries, and the next day we go and get to cook. They are some of the best cooks at the school I would imagine,” said Hawkins.
Every year, the school gets 50 tickets to an Angels game, and the Special Education and PALs students go to watch the game together.
“Monday, April 24 we had our Angels game. The alumni from special education come with us, too. We had eight kids who had already graduated come back and watch the game with us. We had eight kids from Thurston, too. It was widespread. It is fun that the kids still love their association with each other,” said Hawkins.
The PALs program again partnered with Hawkins’s students on an excursion to the Irvine outdoor learning facility.
“There is a good connection between our program and the PALs program. We do a lot of overlap activities. We took these kids to the the Irvine Outdoor Learning Facility where we went ziplining. We actually had two kids in wheelchairs ziplining,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins and her staff go to great lengths to encourage these students to further their education after graduation.
“We took the bus, went out to lunch and saw Coastline College because they have a specific program that these kids can transition to from here,” said Hawkins.
The students also run a program called Breaker Express where they deliver lunch to teachers on campus.
“We get orders from the teachers, and at 11:15, we walk down to town. Half of us go to La Sirena. The other two go to Whole Foods,” said Natalia Law.
The teachers put their orders in the box in the office. There is a student manager who has to count the orders and assign kids to take certain teacher’s orders. Everyone has to count the money and make sure they have the right amount.
“The teachers always beg for Breaker Express,” said Hawkins.
The program received a new cash register this year, enabling them to train the students on how to handle money and make transactions.
“Dana Reiss leads our vocational training and is always looking to make it a little more legitimate and a little more intense for the kids,” said Hawkins.
This was the seventh year that Hawkins and her students have organized a luncheon at the Assistance League for teachers.
“This year we are allowing the teachers to bring a student that they want to honor with them. The kids invite their parents, and we also invite the managers from local restaurants in the community that we work at,” said Hawkins.
Overall, this has been a packed year for the special education students. Hawkins and her coworkers have been going above and beyond to prepare the kids for their future in a fun and engaging way.
“I think one thing that we would love people to know about our program is that people always want to do a special club or activity for the Special Ed kids, but really, what they love most is just being involved in everything that goes on. When people ask me what they can do, I say just take them to a movie or invite them to walk down to Starbucks. They like to do everything that everyone else does,” said Hawkins.