The League School’s Vocational Program offers students an opportunity to gain life skills in a variety of settings. Prior to COVID, students worked at over 30 offsite locations including the Walpole library, Big Y supermarket, the Fairfield Inn, and the Vanderbilt Club. Many of the vocational programs were indoors; state rules limit the number of students allowed in a van; the culinary arts kitchen and Hawk’s Nest store were too small to allow social distancing; and the school needed to repurpose the vocational center for larger classroom space. Therefore, it was critical to find new options. Beginning in the spring, staff collaborated to develop new programs that would offer a safe environment while also promoting students’ continued development.
“We were concerned about how to meet the students’ vocational needs, which are a big part of their education,” said Amy Faraone, Coordinator of Vocational and Career Services. “Our team brainstormed to develop outside of the box ideas.”
A new garden was the cornerstone of reimagining the vocational program. Over 30 students work in the garden weekly – planting, weeding, and harvesting a variety of vegetables. Students pick vegetables from the garden for recipes the culinary arts teacher prepares. “Being in the garden, getting fresh air, and exercise is very beneficial for the students,” said Selena Zubrowski, Job Coach. “The experience builds self-confidence and the students love it.” In the spring, the vocational team looks forward to expanding the garden to include herbs and flowers.
Other garden-related activities include the stepping stone, bluebird house, and wreath projects. Students read directions, mix cement, and paint garden stepping stones. Using a template, they hammer together bluebird houses, gaining patience and eye-hand coordination skills. The students are also collecting greens from the woods and learning about the types of different trees for the wreath project. “The students feel proud of themselves when they see their finished projects,” said Selena.
Additional in-house vocational programs include:
- Staffing a mobile canteen
- Fulfilling teacher personal protective equipment orders
- Distributing school supply orders
- Maintaining the school vans
- Collecting and weighing recycled plastic materials for Trex Decking Company
- Working at two animal sanctuaries, the Audubon Society, and Rojo’s Car Wash
- Collecting coffee grounds from Starbuck’s for garden compost
- Picking up and delivering breakfast and lunch from Walpole High School
In addition to in-house programs, outdoor community programs round out the suite of options:
The students gain many skills through the vocational program – social, counting, identification, patience, responsibility, and attention-to-detail. Students as young as 12 are eligible to take part if they and their parents feel comfortable. At age 16, they can intern and earn an hourly salary. Almost 50 students participate in one or more of the programs. Amy Faraone meets one-on-one with vocational students to reinforce the skills they’ve gained in the program and help them prepare for post-graduation employment.
“One of our top priorities was to make sure students progress in their vocational skills,” said Amy. “We want to mirror or complement the skills they were getting in the community so that when our students are able to go back to the community, they will be able to do so seamlessly.”