School Helps Special Needs Students Prepare for Work

By Lauren Wanko

At the New Road School of Parlin, students ring up food at the grocery store, give manicures at the nail salon and design T-shirts in the printing shop. They’ve all punched in for work at the New Road Square.

“It’s an everyday living program where they get to work on activities that deal with language arts and math in a very different way,” said Principal Carol Padgitt.

The private school is for students with special needs.

“We’re a receiving district so the public schools send their students to us — those students that need more social skills, more individualized programs,” she said.

The on-campus careers program is comprised of four classes. The food lab — that’s where students learn basic culinary skills and help make school lunches. Production 1 and 2 focuses on things like graphic design and 3D printing. And office skills, where students like Pooja learn how to shred paper and copy.

“We thought about what did the students need when they’re done here. Working in a mall kiosk making T-shirts is something one of our kids could do, so we tried to simulate that,” said SLE Coordinator Brett Hockenjos.

The amount of time students spend working here at New Road Square varies depending on their age. Thirteen- to 14-year-olds are here once a week, 12th-graders work four days a week. Students switch career classes every quarter so by the time they graduate they’ve worked in each store.

At the florist, Daniel and Morgan prepare flowers for an arrangement.

“I like it,” Morgan Procida said.

While Carly Villanueva fills lunch plates with chicken nuggets.

“I bring the lunches to the classrooms and I do the lunches, like put them on the dishes,” she said.

Older students work in more advanced careers like the school supermarket, which is a smaller version of a typical grocery store lined with food and a check-out lane while students like Eddie Kurylo keep track of money at the bank. Students earn what’s called “New Road School Cash.” Here they learn how to deposit, cash and also spend their money at the school store. Eddie’s one of the bank tellers.

“I am so proud of myself,” he said.

“They’re learning what you would have to do to be successful in a job. I think sometimes that kind of stuff is taken for granted, right? Having to do the same thing over again, being able to follow directions specifically,” Hockenjos said.

The school partners with local businesses. Students place labels on popcorn bags for this company and package stuffed animals for another business.

Students also participate in an unpaid, school-sponsored structured learning experience off-campus. About 20 businesses partner with the school so students get hands-on experience in the workplace.

These local business owners say the students are passionate about the tasks they’re assigned in the stores.

“First of all, they come very happy. They love to be there I think and they help a lot with stuff,” said Total Hardware and Garden owner Alessandra Conte.

“I think it just kind of prepares them for what they would like to do after they graduate,” said Mel’s Pet Parlor owner Melanie Bellotto.

“The premise is to get everyone to know that they can be successful and we want them to acquire those new learning skills and keep moving on,” Padgitt said.

New Road School hopes to eventually add even more career classes.