For many students, planning for a future beyond Allendale High School includes college brochures, military considerations or trade schools. There are grade point averages to consider and volunteer opportunities to take advantage of. But for others, exiting high school means something different, but something equally as important: finding meaningful work.
For years, Allendale High School has offered the vocational technology program as a way to support students receiving special education services through IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans). Students can elect this course along with the rest of his or her class loads to help with skills like compiling a resumé and applying for a job.
Class instructor Stephanie Torp explained, “Basically, our program is community-based instruction. We try to get as many community events on the calendar for our kids to participate in so they learn social, life and workplace skills. The goal is that, eventually, once they’re older, will be working full time somewhere.”
The inclusion of community events has brought the group to places like
- On Tuesday’s from 12 – 2pm they volunteer at LOVE Inc. by sorting and tagging clothes. They help out as much as they can, saving Thursdays for a fun activity day.
- GVSU Art Gallery
- They went to Peppino’s Pizza, where they’ve shown them how everything works in the kitchen and students each made a pizza. They learned to toss the dough and do all the things that they may be doing someday.
- Art Prize: they took the city bus to get downtown so the students could experience how to use public transportation before enjoying downtown Grand Rapids.
- They talk about tipping and paying in a restaurant.
- They’ve gone to Meijer with the goal of finding the best deals for their grocery shopping (lists were given as part of a scavenger hunt).
- They visited Goodwill Industries, who has offered on-site work to kids when they are ready. Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to get placed in jobs through the program when and if they are ready, though they do not have any students placed at the moment.
- They traveled to Ottawa County Fillmore Complex to talk to a police officer to talk about what skills are required to work in the system. Additionally, they talked about the different jobs they could do at the Complex, such as working in the cafeteria or custodial work in the jails. If they went to school for two years after high school they might be able to work in the corrections department.
- Some of the vocational tech students work in the Red Zone (school store), selling cookies and slushies to the student body. This helps them with their social skills as well as reading, making change and any other skill that may be helpful in a retail situation.
With nine students enrolled in the program, teacher Mrs. Torp says, “We’re grateful to the organizations and businesses that have allowed us to come in and have donated so much of their time to give us these experiences. We appreciate it! If organizations are willing to work with us, we’re able to provide students with the best experiences possible to be independently successful once they’re out of school.”
For students, the personal and social transformations have been life-changing. One student, who will remain annonymous, has gained the confidence and direction to become an independent young woman. Mrs. Torp shared that when she first joined vocational tech, “ …we couldn’t get her to say two words to us! She had to be walked everywhere, and when we went on our first outing she held my hand because she was nervous about it. Now we can’t keep her next to us and she is one of the most vocal kids we have.”
Another student said, “When I started the program, I would barely even talk to anyone. Now I am more open to everyone thanks to Mrs.Torp and Mrs.Val (another teacher). The first few field trips that they took I skipped out, because I felt like I was sick. Now I don’t feel sick because I don’t have as much stress in me. I like this program because we go on lots of field trips like art prize and Peppino’s Pizza to see how they do their job. We also have a teacher lunch on the last day of the month. That’s how the vocational tech program helped me and why I like it.”
Thanks to the teachers and community members who pave the way for new opportunities for students with disabilities! Especially with graduation approaching, we’re grateful that bright futures are available to all.