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Students in VSP Program Learn by Lending a Hand at SSD Sites

student and teacher working in VSP program Dec. 2, 2020 – Despite a blustery couple of weeks in St. Louis County, you will be hard-pressed to find a stray leaf anywhere on the North Technical High School campus. That’s because, for the past several weeks, students in SSD’s Vocational Skills Program have been pitching in at landscaping and other duties around the campus.

The group of VSP students at North Tech would normally be working at Little Creek Nature Area in Florissant. This fall, they’re one of several teams that have found work sites at SSD locations, because many of their traditional sites remain closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions.

“Our goal is to help students find real-life vocational environments to practice those skills,” said Aimee Pullen, an SSD transition area coordinator. “With a lot of our sites having to close or limit the visitors that are allowed in their buildings due to COVID-19, we’ve had to seek out new environments for our students to learn.”

Students at the North Tech site are helping with landscaping, cleaning and even walking next door to Ackerman School to lend a hand running the school store.

“Typically, at their normal VSP site location, they would be doing a lot of landscaping work,” said Joe Schappe, a teacher in the VSP program. “So, what we’ve tried to do is incorporate that into their role here on the North Tech campus.”

As they meet staff around the building, they’ve been able to find new ways to develop their skills.

“I will tell you the staff here has been very open to allow us to come into their different areas,” Schappe said. “I know I’ve spoken with the automotive teacher, and he has said he’d let them vacuum or wash cars if they want to try that.”

The key to finding work sites and tasks for students is ensuring that it provides students with a way to develop important vocational skills.

“So far, they’ve been able to find jobs for our students to do—jobs that are meaningful,” said Laura Bedo, an SSD transition area coordinator.

In many cases, students are lending a hand with job responsibilities that are new to the buildings due to the pandemic.

“We’ve been helping with technology pickup,” said Rachael Blake, a special education teacher who works with students at SSD’s Central Office. “We’ve been handing out laptops to paraprofessionals from across the county.”

While many of these roles may not be what students have done in the past, they are able to take this opportunity and run with it.

“They’re working on their interpersonal communication skills,” Blake said. “We have a checklist where they will ask questions and write down answers so we can locate the technology that is needed. They will repeat that process so they’re working on things that could transfer to other jobs in the building or in their future.”

For the students, it’s an opportunity to try new things and meet new people, but it’s also a time to get things done.

“I’ve enjoyed being at North Tech,” said Reece, a student at the North Tech VSP site. “My dad actually graduated from North Tech. My favorite task has just been cleaning the lockers. I like that I could clean it, see if I made a mistake, and then I could correct it if I needed to.”

It is an experience that students seem to enjoy.

“All of the students have been able to jump right in and get started,” Blake said. “They all say they’re excited to be here.”

That may go double for the staff.

“At a lot of these locations, they’re the only students in the building,” Bedo said. “Staff say they enjoy seeing the students’ faces and seeing how independently they can work.”