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Sandburg H.S. work program lets special students learn valuable skills

Marty Linderborg owner GreHarvest Bread Co. OrlPark works with Dan Westman special needs student from Sandburg High School store Palos

Marty Linderborg, owner of the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Orland Park, works with Dan Westman, a special needs student from Sandburg High School, at the store in Palos Heights on Wednesday Sept. 12, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:25AM



Some days Dan Westman’s job is as sweet as sugar.

On a recent morning, he first smeared melted butter across a rolled-out section of dough and then sprinkled the unbaked canvas with a mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar and flour.

“Next, we roll it, tight,” said Marty Linderborg, Dan’s boss and mentor at Great Harvest Bread Co. in Palos Park. “Then we’ll cut our cinnamon rolls.”

Dan, 16, is part of a special needs work program at Sandburg High School. He recently began employment at the bakery, which just happens to be across the street from the school.

“These are gonna be good,” he said, placing the sliced rolls onto a baking sheet.

It was Dan’s third day on the job and already he’d learned how to top loaves of bread with honey, how to unpack boxes of freshly frozen fruit and — that never-ending task all bakers deal with — how to wash dishes. He arrives each morning accompanied by his aide, Jake Kruchten.

“The job market is tough for all teens,” said Beth Theisen, vocational coordinator at Sandburg. “It’s even tougher for those who have special needs. This gives them a leg up.”

Theisen set up the partnership with Great Harvest. Other students in the Occupational Information Work Program land jobs at Palos Community Hospital, Culver’s, Beggars Pizza, Jewel food stores and Georgios Banquets. Most of them get paid for their work.

There are 35 students in the program. Many of the juniors and seniors are released early from school to go to their jobs. And many of the program’s participants continue to work for the same company after graduation.

The students are graded by their mentors. They receive school credit for their time.

Dan, a junior, will begin each day working for one period at the bakery. If things work out, he may stay the entire school year. Several of Linderborg’s other proteges have worked the entire school year.

“This is a great way for him to learn adult skills — responsibility, accountability — plus he’s gaining valuable experience that will help him later in life,” Theisen said,

Dan plans to attend Elmhurst College to study history and science.

This is Linderborg’s third year taking one of the Sandburg students under her wing.

Theisen said the bakery owner’s patience is unmatched. But Linderborg laughed it off.

“This is being a part of the community,” she said. “I work in this town, I live in this town. This is our life. If we can give back to the people who give to us, that’s awesome.”

Plus, she added, “It’s nice to share knowledge. And it’s a lot of fun.”



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