Program Gives Students with Special Needs Real World Job Experience

February 11, 2015 | Education

By Lauren Wanko

Just after dawn, Brick Township High School students suit up for their work day at Harrogate Retirement Community.

“These are reliable employees. They know their job. They come in every day, they’re grateful for it,” said Brick Memorial High School Coordinator Tiffany Aguyo.

Zach Corduan and Giovanni Mancini are interns here. They’re part of the Brick Township School District’s Structured Learning Experience — a program for students with special needs.

“It was designed so we could get the students out into the community, get them real life experiences, job experience,” said Brick Township High School Coordinator Darla Novick.

What began with about 20 students has grown to 75 and now nearly 50 local businesses have joined. Giovanni and Zach are bused to this retirement community nearly every day of the week and work during the early morning hours.

When asked what it feels like to come and work, Giovanni said, “Happy.” When asked why that his, he said, “It makes me smile.”

Interns are typically paired with mentors like Betty Glenn who show them the ropes.

“The workplace is a strong place to learn different tasks, managers, supervisors, coworkers,” Glenn said.

Giovanni lines the dining trays with paper, sanitizes the menus and covers cups of ice cream for hungry residents.

The best part for him? “Helping people.”

“He’s a very good, strong person here and I think he’ll do well out in the world,” Glenn said.

About two dozen businesses involved with the program have hired the student-interns like Giovanni. Since 2010, about 25 percent of those students have landed paid positions. Giovanni graduates in June.

When asked if he’s hoping to get a full-time gig at the retirement community, he said, “Yes!”

So far Harrogate’s hired three of their student-interns.

“They know what the tasks are, they perform them in a timely manner. They get them done correctly. That’s very, very important, and not that’s always possible with mainstream youth of America but it seems they adapt very well,” said Harrogate Nutritional Service Manager Nancy Oran.

“A lot of these kids aren’t going to college so these are jobs that they land and they stick with and will be lifelong dedicated employees,” said Novick.

Program coordinators work to place students in positions based on their interests. Interns must be at least 16 years old. They earn five classroom credits per semester while on the job.

“It’s very important because a lot of the kids, it’s not so much the tasks they are learning, it’s the social skills. Just all the daily things you and I take for granted, that for them they need that extra help,” Novick said.

When asked what the best part about coming, Zach said, “Learning how to work and to do the task and work with people.”

Zach too is graduating this year. He’s part of the housekeeping team and tells us he really wants to work here full-time.

When asked if he has told anyone he’s really interested, Zach said, “Not yet.”

We think Harrogate Retirement Community might have an idea after today.

“People need to realize how valuable these students are in the workplace as well. That’s really our goal, to advocate for their needs,” said Aguyo.