Local students participate in Work Skills Challenge Day at R-P

Submitted photo Brianna Cody (right) is interviewed by Jessie Street Java owner Amy Feller (left) at last week’s Work Skills Day held at Rushford-Peterson Schools. As part of the skills competition, students were mock-interviewed by local business members, prepared job applications and took a general knowledge quiz.
By : 
Michelle Rowley

Dressed for success, 50 students with diverse disabilities from seven school districts gathered Wednesday, April 25 at Rushford-Peterson High School for “Work Skills Challenge Day,” a workshop/competition designed to prepare them for life after graduation.
The skills competition for junior and senior high school students included preparing job applications, mock interviews with one of nine area business members, and a general knowledge quiz.
In addition to the competition, 14 employment and transition vendors were on hand to provide information on independent living and job opportunities.
Mindy Reinardy, Winona Public Schools Transition Coordinator, explained the students’ preparation and other opportunities provided at this skills day. “The students are dressing for the part, they’ve practiced, they are working on their soft skills, and at the end of the interview we are able to give them feedback on how well things went or things they need to work on. So it’s really having that opportunity to practice the skills that they’ve been learning in school and getting ready for life.”
Learning soft skills, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving, are an important part of obtaining employment and a special part of the work skills day. “We actually have a sportsmanship mixer, where they talk with each other and ask random questions from a sheet,” Reinardy said. “Questions like ‘who has a size six shoe?’ or ‘are you graduating in 2018?’ - just random questions – and when they complete it the students are entered for a door prize.”
The day’s events were kicked off by keynote speaker Jim Langevin, a noted vocational rehabilitation councilor. Langevin candidly shared his story of set-backs and come backs as a person with a disability.
“My mom, when she was pregnant with me, took a drug called thalidomide, which was supposed to help with morning sickness,” Langevin shared. “She was prescribed this medication by her doctor and it turned out to be a really horrible drug that caused birth defects in babies. What thalidomide does is stop bone growth. So what happened to me was that I was missing the fibula on my lower leg – I just didn’t have that in my right leg – it was gone. And then on my left foot, my good leg, my pinky toe was sticking out on the side,” explained Langevin. “When I was 10 months old, they cut off my right foot and they cut off my (left) pinky toe.”
“Every time I grew, I needed a new leg – I’ve probably had 20 legs in my lifetime.” Despite receiving a new leg after every growth spurt, and surgeries that shortened his leg, he never let these set-backs interfere with his mobility. “I’m not a guy that likes to sit around. I just adapted. I was very good on crutches – I could crutch five miles. I could hop on one leg carrying two beverages and never spill a drop.”
In the fall of 2017, Langevin’s orthopedic surgeon told him that his bone was infected and if he did not have his leg amputated above the knee, he would die. “I tell you what, this was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Langevin confessed. “I have a new computerized leg, which was very hard to get used to – I hated it when I first got it – but what it has done for me is that I can stand upright, put my weight on this leg. I can walk now! ”
Langevin was the keynote speaker at all three Work Skills Challenge Day events. The Rushford-Peterson event was the last of three, and the first time it’s been held at the high school. The previous events took place in Northfield and Austin, with a total of 181 students receiving this preparation for life after high school.