Justice is a large boy for 13 with brown hair and a ready smile. Most days you can find him before and after school at the Wise campus of the Minnick School wearing a neon orange construction vest. As safety patrol, it is his job to keep an eagle eye on children getting on and off the bus. When Justice, 13, came to the Wise campus in January 2011, it would have been inconceivable to his mother that he would be given such responsibility–or more amazingly–be looked upon as a role model. Or be described by staff members as “a joy to be with.”
This is the same fearful, angry child who was so traumatized by the abuse, neglect and poverty of his early years that his diagnoses had more letters than his full name — things like PTSD, ADHD, ODD, OCD and RAD. The same child whose aggressive behavior and emotional outbursts made him hard to talk to or teach. The same child whose adoptive mother was desperate to find a place where he could learn–and heal.
His mother, Diane Silver, wrote us a letter of thanks. Her words tell the rest of the story:
“Since he began at Minnick, the whole world and all its possibilities have opened up for my son. He is learning that he has promise as a student and a leader. He is learning how to set academic and behavioral goals for himself. And he is learning that he can achieve them.
The child who once had speech and occupational therapy no longer needs these services. The child who had been categorized as intellectually disabled has now been retested and had that label removed. The child who had every reason to stop believing in the promise of tomorrow now wakes up in the morning singing at the top of his lungs. I know, without a doubt that his new sense of pride, his new lease on life, is directly related to the work the faculty at the Minnick School have done with and for him.
Justice is doing beautifully. He has started transitioning to his home school, an outcome he and his mother could only have dreamed of two years ago. As much as we have enjoyed being a part of his remarkable transformation, we are happier still that he is on his way to a life of opportunity and promise. – December 2012
When Summer enters the PAES classroom at the Roanoke Minnick School, she doesn’t meander over to her desk or start gabbing with a friend. She clocks in and gets to work.
For the next hour, she and her high school classmates will be employees and the classroom staff will be their supervisors.
New to Minnick this year, the Practical Assessment Exploration System transforms the classroom into a mini-work environment to help students learn basic career, vocational and life skills in five areas: business/marketing, construction/industrial, consumer/service, processing/production, and computer/technology.
“Helping students learn good work habits and the expectations of the work world is an important part of the program,” says Kim Irvin, the school’s transition coordinator. “Our students struggle with appropriate behavior, so PAES is the perfect fit because it bridges the gap between graduation and employment.”
The five work centers have tools and materials necessary to complete graduated “job cards” that move students along the curriculum. A student working in the consumer service area might be learning how to wrap hamburgers or microwave hot chocolate; another student in the processing and production area might be learning how to assemble pipes. In the planning stages is a system where students earn a real hourly wage–and even a quarterly bonus—so they can learn valuable money management and banking skills.
Students enter the classroom, clock in, pick up a job card, assemble their tools and fill out a work record. The employee and supervisor look over the job before the employee begins the activity. At the end of the activity, the student records the result. If the job was completed correctly the student moves on; if not the students tries the activity again.
“PAES whittles a task down into its simplest form,” says Irvin, “and allows the students to both build on foundational skills and discover which kinds of tasks they like.” Irvin says that students who would not normally enjoy independent work are enthusiastic about ‘going to work’ when they enter the lab.
Students are expected to keep their work stations clean and orderly. Rules are strict and extend outside the PAES lab; if a student isn’t coming to school, he or she must call in sick to a supervisor.
One of the biggest pluses of PAES is the data generated by the card system. Irvin says that she can clearly see students’ productivity and affinities by looking at how they do on the various tasks. “It’s good for families because they learn the areas their child is most interested in and what barriers there may be to success in the workplace.”
“PAES is valuable because it teaches problem-solving and communication, two things that our kids need the most when they leave our schools,” says Terri Webber, director of education. “It’s a great program for any student on any level.”
And she says, ”Because we get a good idea of where students are vocationally, we can help them create meaningful goals for further education or independent living.”
Both Webber and Irvin would like to see the program expand to other Minnick locations as well as to other grade levels. Irvin, who also coordinates community-based learning for students, would like to see the school offer higher levels of vocational education perhaps leading to certification.
“Our kids are so excited about the lab,” says Irvin. “It would be great to build on that excitement and offer them even more.” Fall 2012 MissionWorks newsletter