Monarch School kids get work-based education

DOVER, N.H. (AP) — To help prepare students at the Monarch School of New England in Rochester for life after graduation, 19 area businesses and organizations are providing real-world work opportunities that school staff say have greatly enhanced the students’ independence and classroom therapies.

The partnership has students working each week in places like the parts department at Tri-City Subaru in Somersworth, in circulation at Hill Library in Strafford, and, in 17-year-old Jayden Bloom’s case, mucking and cleaning stables for both the Dover Police Mounted Patrol and Dover’s Paradis Farm.

“It’s huge,” said Isaac Hutchinson, the Monarch School of New England’s vocational coordinator. “A lot of what we learn is so context specific. Materials respond differently when you do it in the environment rather than trying to simulate those things in a classroom. It just presents a really unique opportunity versus something you’re used to working with, which doesn’t happen outside class.”

The nonprofit Monarch School of New England is a specialized regional day school for students with significant disabilities, providing education and support for students between the ages of 5 and 21.

In recent years, the school’s work-based learning partnerships have grown as staff have looked for ways to better support students and improve the transition between school and adult life, according to Hutchinson. The students are accompanied by at least one Monarch School of New England employee while at their volunteer locations, although the staff’s goal is to be as hands-off as they can.

Based on the successes they’ve seen with students like Bloom and the feedback they’ve received from partnering businesses, Hutchinson said it’s a program they’d love to grow, and even double, in order to serve more of the school’s 62 students.

“It’s a lot to sustain, but 35 partnerships would be ideal,” Hutchinson said, referring to the approximate number of Monarch School of New England students old enough to perform in a work setting. “It would give each of these students an incredible individualized learning experience.”

Bloom has grown close with Dover Mounted Patrol police officers Michelle Murch and Joe Caproni over the past two months he’s mucked the stables of police horses CJ and Rasa. That’s evident in the way Bloom will joke around with Murch and Caproni, including razzing Murch in a recent interview by telling her he likes Caproni better.

Hutchinson said Bloom’s motor function, communication and independence have also greatly improved over the past two months while the frequency of his behavioral outbursts have decreased. He’s now able to perform two-handed, self-directed tasks like sweeping and carrying a wheel barrow, among other coordinated movements he found difficult while trying to learn them in a classroom setting, according to Hutchinson.

To Murch, the personal side of Bloom’s gains, particularly his self confidence, are what stand out.

“I think we’re really fortunate to be a part of this,” said Murch, describing it as a mutually beneficial relationship that dovetails nicely with the public-facing goals and roles of the Dover Mounted Patrol. “It’s nicer to be able to provide a place for everyone to have an opportunity.”

Hill Library Director Paige Holman said she’s seen the library’s student flourish over the past three months, to the point where the student is catching their organizational mistakes on bookshelves and does various things to nurture his love of books and learning in others.

“It couldn’t be a more successful situation than it is,” said Holman. “Details are his strength. He has the skills a good librarian needs.”

The goal of the work-based learning program, Hutchinson said, is to place students in businesses and organizations in close proximity to their homes, so they’re working in their communities. He said it helps with the transition and overall investment in the program. Bloom lives roughly five minutes away from the stables in southern Maine, while the student who works at Hill Library lives just over the town line in Rochester.

Rob Arthur, the operations manager at Tri-City Subaru, said their experience with their student over the past four months has been an overwhelming success. He said they were happy to welcome the program “with open arms” and that the student has a job at Tri-City if he wants it after he graduates from the Monarch School of New England.

“There are so many businesses around that could do this for these kids,” said Arthur. “It’s so easy for the employer. I kind of wish we did it sooner.”

Like Arthur, Holman said the Monarch School of New England has made the process easy and seamless to the point where she said she’d advocate for others to explore forging a partnership with the school.

“They will be surprised how much their business benefits as well as the student benefiting,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”

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