NEW HAVEN, Conn. — For more than a decade, Bob Ross taught a television audience about the joy of painting, and special education teacher Tom Flaherty believes his students stand to learn from the style the painter used with his encouraging tone of voice.
“Let’s talk about inflection,” he said recently to seven students in the New Haven Public Schools Off-Campus Classroom program. “How can you say, ‘I’m going to work today’ in a positive way?”
Flaherty, who works with students ages 18 and 21 in the district’s special education career preparatory program, told his group that a positive tone can influence their overall attitudes. His students, based at Yale New Haven Hospital’s St. Raphael campus, are among the 42 who take part in the transitional and vocational training program.
“The goal was to get them out of high school and to focus on skills, like on-the-job training,” said Mark Caruso, the district’s transitional vocational coordinator. “I’ll swear by this model any day for special needs students; it’s reliable.”
At the YNHH St. Raphael site, he said, students have the opportunity to learn about labor laws, customer service and HIPAA laws (which protect patients’ privacy), instead of spending time in a classroom being made to remember theories that won’t be applicable to their lives.
The program, which launched 16 years ago, has nearly doubled in 10 years, from 27 students to 42, Caruso said.
“We’re looking at an expansion for next year,” he said.
Students are recommended by their school planning and placement team, so Caruso often knows which students to expect will enter the program after they complete their ordinary high school program.
The other three sites where students work jobs are at Advanced Nursing & Rehabilitation, Gateway Community College and the Adult Education Center.
Doe Haywood, Yale New Haven Hospital volunteer coordinator, said she considers the partnership between NHPS and YNHH to be “a win-win” and among the best in the city.
“We appreciate their commitment to providing volunteers and students who are ready to take this next step in their career development,” she said. “In all the years of doing this, we’ve seen growth from these young people.”
Raekwon Wells, 21, is in his final year of the program and works in the hospital’s material services department, delivering medicines and fluids to their floors and stacking shelves.
“It’s important for me to stay focused on the job,” he said. “Without me, they wouldn’t get the stuff they needed.”
Caruso noted that Marvin Shaw, 19, who works in the mailroom, knows the hospital better than he does. Shaw said he has about 70 stops to make on two routes.
In addition to experience and confidence, the students make important connections and accrue valuable time worked.
Zaria Hayes, 20, works in the hospital’s pharmacy and apothecary, which has brought her closer to receiving a certification as a pharmacy technician.
“I didn’t realize there’s a lot behind the scenes,” Hayes said. “But it’s very different from high school. It’s an environment I like, and everyone is nice and there’s no drama.”
Symata Branch, 18, said she likes that she has real work experience because of the OCC program, although she admitted she’s ambivalent about her placement in the hospital’s dining services department.
Flaherty said students are matched to departments based on interests and abilities, but they have latitude to move placements.
Flaherty said the program is helpful for students during the school year, as many rely on state services for job placements over the summer.
With a recent trend of rescission in state budgets, however, the state job placement programs have become less of a guarantee.
“The program may help them with their resumes for the summer,” he said.
Haywood said the hospital staff does feel the students’ absence over the summer, when the workload becomes heavier without the work the students do.
“They help augment the work our staff do,” she said. “They are missed.”
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com