Schoolwork that works

TUMWATER - When Tumwater High School Life Skills teacher Susan Plankey gives the word, her students start shopping for another student in need.

At Buster-Boo Outfitters, a collection of donated used and new clothing items set up like a clothing shop in Plankey’s classroom, students analyze orders and neatly package shirts, pants, shoes, socks and other items to be sent to Tumwater students who can’t afford those items.

“Boys and girls clothing. Shoes. It’s whatever they have on their order,” said Tumwater High School senior MJ McDaniel, 18.

Since Buster-Boo opened Nov. 2, principals and counselors at any Tumwater school have been able to send orders for students who need items such as shoes or winter jackets. The class then packages the items, which are sent back to the schools through the district mail system.

Some of the items are new, but the clothing bank also accepts used clothing in good condition, which students learn to launder.

The district started the clothing bank this year to help district families who need assistance and as a job-training project for students in Tumwater’s Life Skills program. Life Skills teaches high school students in the special education program how to perform daily tasks, such as working at a job or using public transportation.

Life Skills is for “anyone in special education from age 16 on who are in a transition plan,” said district special services director Tammie Jensen-Tabor. “It’s, ‘How do we get ready for life after high school?’”

Freshman Bryson Lenecker, 15, said he has learned valuable lessons from working at the clothing bank.

“I just help and work with other people,” Lenecker said. “And I do the laundry, and separate darks and lights.”

Plankey said that while the job the students are learning is retail – shoes and clothing are neatly shelved and labeled, even though no one else shops there – students also learn skills that would be valuable in any work situation.

“They are working in teams, and they decide within their teams how to divide tasks,” she said. “They are learning to work with other people.”

Plankey said organizers hope to expand the program to the Black Hills High School Life Skills program, and she also hopes to open the class to general-education students who need career training.

A diverse work force is a reality in the workplace, she said.

“We want to have more than just the Life Skills class,” Plankey said. “Everybody is going to have to work with everybody.”

The public service to other students is an important part of the program, she said.

Venice Buhain: 360-754-5445