Recognizing that work activities may have a therapeutic effect, we include specific activities and tasks in a student’s treatment plan, with input from that student and his or her clinical team and family members. When appropriate, our vocational program can help older students develop essential work skills that may enable them to obtain paying jobs and achieve as much independence as possible.
When a student is ready to move into our Employment Center, our staff work with teachers and parents to develop specific vocational goals, and with students to identify their interests and job goals. Oftentimes we are able to match students with existing internal job openings. If that is not possible, we create positions that will best utilize students’ abilities. Guided by a job coach, they successfully accomplish a variety of tasks at school such as working in the school store or cafeteria, delivering mail, or recycling. In this way, we create a mock working environment that is a stepping stone to the real world of work.
For the first year, students are “paid” with material reinforcers that are meaningful to each child, such as CDs, video games, or special foods. When students turn 15, they can receive financial reimbursement for their work. Many students are able to obtain volunteer or paid employment in the school or community.
The Todd Fournier Center for Employment Training and Community Inclusion serves our older students who are ready for a more intensive vocational training experience. This “school within a school” addresses the two most critical aspects of adult independence – the ability to engage in meaningful employment and the ability to function as successfully as possible in day-to-day life in the community.
We have three vocational suites at the Center where the students work on vocational skills in a larger group setting (in groups of 2-3 students with a teacher). At the school store, students participate in tasks such as stocking the shelves, taking inventory, and operating the cash register. At our hotel suite, students learn a variety of domestic and janitorial skills. At “Todd’s Café,” students assist in food preparation and serving, as well as janitorial tasks. There are a variety of needs to meet the strengths of all students.
Students work under the direction of a job coach at community businesses, social service agencies, as well as at our school. Current vocational placements include Arbella Insurance, the Thayer Public Library, South Shore YMCA, VERC Convenience Stores, and Meals on Wheels, among others. Within the school, the students assist our classrooms and corporate center with clerical work, delivering mail, recycling, delivering supplies, and a variety of other jobs. These work and volunteer experiences give students opportunities to develop and strengthen skills that will help them live more independently and give them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Within the classrooms at the Fournier Center, our teachers put an emphasis on teaching functional academic and communication skills. These are the skills that become important when creating an independent adult life. We also use a good deal of group instruction, which provides students with the opportunity to experience academics while working in a less restrictive environment. The students also access the community on a regular basis, both on job sites with our vocational specialists and with their teachers to work on community access and independent living skills.