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Life Skills Grow in New Herricks Learning Environment

Herricks High School officially celebrated the grand opening of a new apartment classroom for students in the Vocational Independence Program (VIP).  As a result of the collaboration and dedication of the board of education, administration, faculty, facilities staff, parents and others who generously contributed their time, students now have a new setting where they can engage in day-to-day tasks that will equip them with useful knowledge and competences.

The suite was funded through a grant that Senator Jack Martins awarded the Herricks Public Schools. It was built during the summer by the district’s own internal facilities team and was assembled by staff members. All involved in the project’s planning gathered with students, teachers and parents on Dec. 16 for a special agenda of events.

VIP student Christopher Troiano sang the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. Teacher Julie Duenges then welcomed the attendees and emphasized the value of this project. On behalf of the VIP faculty, she thanked staff members who designed, constructed and maintain the suite, as well as those who have secured materials for it. She also acknowledged the district and community leaders who supported the initiative.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Fino Celano also addressed the audience. “It’s very important that we recognize the fact that this will be a wonderful, joyful learning environment for our students,” he said. “The students are the center of everything we do.”
“The skills [the students] learn here will be the platform by which they live their daily lives,” said Senator Martins.
The formal unveiling of the new learning environment was signified with a ribbon cutting, facilitated by Dr. Celano and other administrators, Senator Martins, members of the board of education and teachers.

Students, under the direction of Ms. Duenges and teachers Kelly Jingeleski, Stacey McFarland, Kelly Martino and Kara Faharty, took their guests on a tour of the facility. One by one, they discussed various aspects of the suite and how these resources benefit them as well as others throughout the building. They also thanked the SEPTA volunteers who donated a life sized Jenga game and foosball table that promote interaction and strategic thinking.

The desks, for starters, have wheels and are easy to move so that students may work in groups. SMARTBoards that were installed are used every day, and clerical areas enable students to develop office skills. Independent work stations offer opportunities to practice vocational tasks such as filing and organizing, while a lounge area encourages socialization.

A living area presents a space where students can improve daily routines such as making a bed and folding clothing. The kitchen contains appliances that students learn to use in a safe and proper manner as they demonstrate teamwork while cooking and cleaning up. They use a laundry corner to wash, and also to clean the high school athletes’ jerseys at the end of each season.
Herricks VIP students gain work experience at various job sites, which include Home Depot, Hofstra University, Chocolate Works, Old Navy, Shoes for All and the district’s school buildings. The new suite helps to prepare them for these roles. “This is real life living, which students benefit from,” said Ms. Duenges. “They are able to develop independent living skills in real situations, which makes it more meaningful.”
Following the tour, attendees took time to enjoy a festive spread of refreshments baked by the students in their new kitchen.

Photos courtesy of Herricks Public Schools

1: The new VIP suite was unveiled with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
2 & 3: Students in the VIP program took their guests on a tour of the new facility and described its features.
4: Herricks High School VIP students, with members of the facilities department who helped to make this project possible.