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Transition program a treat for students, dogs

April 25, 2018

KANKAKEE — Students sat together, kneading and rolling out dough before pressing cookie cutters of various shapes. Some chose stars. Some chose hearts.

Their conversations revolved around how much dogs would enjoy the biscuits they were making and how much they looked forward to making money for their upcoming trip to Chicago.

It was a normal Friday for Kankakee High School’s community-based transition students. Making dog treats was part of the program that teaches special needs students, ages 18 through 21, the work and life skills they need through real life experience.

“It’s extremely valuable, especially for our older students, because we are preparing them to be productive citizens in society,” transition teacher Jodie Giannakopoulos said. “They are gaining job skills. They are learning how to talk to people in the public. It makes them feel valuable in general.”

The transition program has been making dog treats for several years. At the beginning of the school year, students select a school in Kankakee School District 111 and serve as that school’s sales representative. They take orders from teachers, make the biscuits and deliver them.

“It helps people with their dogs,” said Sade Price, a 20-year-old transition student who loves dogs. “When their dogs are good, they can give them a treat.”

Making the treats is a collaborative effort. Students make dough using edible ingredients for their peanut butter and beef-flavored biscuits. They cut them out and bake them for about 40 minutes. Throughout the process, they talk to each other.

“I get to socialize and make some money for the program,” 21-year-old transition student Cooper Hairston said. “I like cutting them out. The more the merrier.

“I don’t like to be heartless,” the noted class jokester added with a grin, while holding up his heart-shaped cookie-cutter.

Making dog biscuits is one of several aspects of the transition program. Students spend four days each week in the community. They volunteer on Wednesdays to stock shelves, clean and hang up clothes at local businesses.

They learn how to budget and count money by eating at local restaurants and purchasing groceries to make food on Fridays.

The program has connected several students with jobs. A former student currently buses tables at BrickStone in Bourbonnais. Another works for First Student.

Aedan Starr-Heneghan, a 21-year-old transition student, works at the Kankakee Public Library.

“It’s a fun job,” he said. “I’m getting faster at finding and picking books off the shelf.”

The money students earn through their K-Dawg Biscuits will go toward an end-of-the-year field trip to Chicago, where they will go on an architectural boat tour and spend an afternoon at Navy Pier.

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