Spectrum Charter School students volunteer in the community
February 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Jared Jenkins, a sophomore at Spectrum Charter School in Monroeville, volunteers at the Lincoln Park Community Center organizing supplies for the food pantry.
Sarah Puckett, a sophomore at Spectrum Charter School in Monroeville, volunteers at the Lincoln Park Community Center organizing supplies for the food pantry.
By Kathleen Ganster
Lincoln Park Community Center provides many services to the community and that requires a lot of help.
The nonprofit located in Penn Hills depends on volunteers like the students from the Spectrum Charter School to help them provide those services. But it isn’t just beneficial for the Center, it also helps the students.
“Too often we focus on what skills we don’t have. Here we focus on what the students can do and let them do it,” Joyce Davis, the executive director of the Center, said.
Spectrum is a private charter school that serves students ages13 to 21 with autism and other disabilities to teach them school- to- work transition skills. The Center and school, located in Monroeville, work together to allow the students to acquire important skills that can later help them find employment. The program fits right into their mission.
“The students master skills that will help them later in life, but they also get to see how they help others. It is so rewarding to see their growth and how they develop as they work here,” Ms. Davis said.
The students work in the community as part of their educational programming. Spectrum works with several community organizations including Lincoln Park to provide this experience. At Lincoln, the students do tasks such as sorting and stocking the foods at the food pantry, helping the clients select their food, carry food to cars and clean-up.
“They do the whole gamut,” according to Ms. Davis.
Amber Simcic, transition coordinator, said the community-based program is important to help the students with their social skills as well as work skills.
“Working isn’t just about doing the tasks, but working and communicating with others,” she said.
Since Spectrum has 32 students in the community-based learning experience, it requires a lot of partnerships. Ms. Simcic reaches out to the community to find associates willing to oversee their students and who also need extra hands. Many like Lincoln, go the extra mile to make sure that experience is helpful for the students.
“It also gives our students a chance to give back to the community,” she said.
The students also work in places such as Global Links, a company that provides medical equipment to third world countries, the Carnegie Science Center, the Shop Depot and numerous other sites. The students go to these sites twice a month.
“They may do dusting and cleaning, gardening, stocking shelves, waiting on customers – we try to switch it up so they learn more skills,” she said.
In turn being host to the students, the work sites get volunteers who provide valuable hours so they in turn can provide services for the community.
“I get wonderful volunteers, but it is also wonderful seeing our staff interact with the students. And it is great for our clients, especially our elderly to see the students helping them,” Ms. Davis said.
Spectrum isn’t the only school to have the community-based programs. Since the program is part of the students’ individualized educational plans required by the state, other programs with similar missions such as Wesley Spectrum Services also provide the opportunities in their curriculum.
“We work with businesses who can offer a variety of work tasks that are age-and-skill appropriate with good role models. We have partners all over the greater Pittsburgh area,” Leslie Corey, coordinator of Community Based Instruction Services said.
Like Ms. Davis, Ms. Corey feels the program provides valuable programming for their students.
“We work with the organizations and talk about our students strengths so we can find the best match. Everyone has that first job and this takes a lot of the fear out of it for our students,” she said.
The settings vary and include retail, grocery, food service, hotels, and animal care providers where the students learn a myriad of skills that will transfer over to the real world once they complete their schooling.
“We see students really mature and grow. The difference between the first time they go to a site and at the end is amazing. The growth in self-esteem and confidence is wonderful, plus they feel like they are part of the community,” Ms. Corey said.
For the employers, it is a “win-win opportunity,” she said.
“They get the help, but they also get a better understanding of possible employees and a better understanding of the people in their community,” Ms. Corey said.
Michelle Clark, owner of Precious Angels Childcare and Learning Center has had Wesley students work for her for four years. The students assist in the pre-school classes and have become favorites of her little charges.
“The children run over and give them hugs with they come in. They love the older students and love interacting with them,” she said.
The Wesley students help with all sorts of tasks, Ms. Clark said, including sorting, distribution of materials, worksheets and assisting the younger children.
“They get a sense of being wanted and needed. They are also learning leadership skills, working in large groups and one-on-one. They learn really valuable skills,” she said.
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