DOS PALOS — Jared Andrews already has a good idea of what he wants to do after graduating from high school in Dos Palos.
Following in the footsteps of his two older siblings, the 18-year-old is moving to Fresno, where he'll go to college. He wants to become a warden with the California Department of Fish and Game.
His favorite subject is math. He went to prom when he was a senior and visited Disneyland with his peers as a junior.
The only thing that sets Andrews apart from a majority of the other students at Dos Palos High School is his autism, according to a news release from Nathan Quevedo, public information officer for the Merced County Office of Education.
"The rest of the kids here, they don't go to college after they graduate," Andrews said of his fellow students in the special day class for students with moderate-to- severe disabilities. "For the rest of the students in high school, they moved on," he added, referring to regular education students.
The program is operated by MCOE's Special Education Department and serves students up to 22 years old, according to Quevedo.
"He wants to be just like the other students," said Maria Duran-Barajas, special education coordinator with MCOE, who oversees classes in Dos Palos and Los Banos.
Duran-Barajas has known Andrews since he was in the third grade, according to Quevedo. As a coordinator for the Special Education program, she serves as an administrator to the class.
The program's goal is to prepare students to be independent young adults who are able to flourish in their community, according to Quevedo.
Through the program, Andrews has picked up lots of work experience in Dos Palos, according to Quevedo. "This year, I worked at Wash Barn and Americana Bakery," Andrews said in the release.
The high school includes these students in a variety of events with regular education students, according to Quevedo.
"There is great collaboration between the Dos Palos High School and our county program," Duran-Barajas said. "Our students are included in graduation, Work Ability programs, the Disneyland trip and any other activities that regular education students participate in."
Dos Palos High offers students an elective course known as "Bronco Buddies," where regular education students come into the special education class to help with schoolwork and to model appropriate social behavior, according to Quevedo.
"This relationship is positive for both type of students. Regular-education students learn how to interact and be accepting of students with disabilities and our students feel included in the school setting," said Duran-Barajas.
Andrews knows the exact date of when he'll start at Fresno City College: "January 7, 2013."
He's enrolled in horticulture, independent living and a consumer class for his first semester, according to Quevedo. The following semester, he plans to focus on general education courses, such as math and English.
For more information on MCOE's Special Education programs, visit www.mcoe.org/special.