Students at St. Matt's Gain Valuable Work Experience

Students at St. Matt's Gain Valuable Work Experience

For special needs students, the work world is often an unfamiliar one. Confined largely to the classroom, many students never get the chance to see how interactions take place nor learn about the work etiquette that is expected of them in a formal work environment.

That’s not the case for three students who attend the SWBOCES Therapeutic Support/Developmental Disabilities Program at St. Matthew’s School in White Plains, a community-based school program for middle and high school students.

The students, Jeremy and Jaquell, both 18, and Rebecca, 21, are currently working at the Visiting Nurse Services Westchester office located in downtown White Plains.

The initiative is one of several partnerships that BOCES maintains with various non-profits and businesses throughout the area.

Each of the students is being paid $11 an hour from BOCES, which is minimum wage for workers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

VNS Westchester is an independent, not-for-profit, Medicare-certified home healthcare agency that provides skilled nursing, rehabilitation therapies, home health aides, social work and care coordination services for people of all ages. 

In addition to their core services, the agency provides specialty care programs, including TeleHealth, wound care, pain and palliative care and many other services that help patients recover from illness or injury or manage chronic conditions in the comfort of their homes.  The agency also provides free health screenings and educational programs at community sites.

A Positive Partnership Unfolds

By all accounts, the BOCES students are loving it and the staff at both VNS Westchester and its affiliate, Westchester Care at Home, which shares the same building space, say they enjoy having them there.

Nina Varughese, who coordinates the students’ work schedules and provides them with various duties to fulfill, said the partnership between the school and VNS Westchester has been a positive one.

On a recent morning, Jeremy and Jaquell were preparing information packets for delivery to VNS Westchester patients.

The 35-page patient orientation packet includes important information on the agency’s policies, philosophy, admissions criteria, Medicare eligibility and more. Inside each booklet, the agency routinely includes separate sheets, such as the patient emergency preparedness plan form, to be filled out by the patient or his/her family; a home health aide care plan; information on the VNSW Care Call Program, along with a list of possible medications being taken by the patient.

The students are required to first make 2-sided copies of the inserts and then arrange them in a specific order for insertion into each booklet, a task that demands their attention and accuracy.

A Worthwhile Experience for the Students

Jaquell said that he has enjoyed his time at VNSW. “This was all kind of new for me,” he said, referring to the experience that has allowed him to interact with the office staff and discover what being part of a team feels like.

Meanwhile, on the first floor of the Westchester Care at Home offices, Rebecca, known as “Becca” to her family, busies herself with light office duties such as sorting, labeling and stapling.

“She loves having a routine, and she gets a paycheck, too,” said her mother, Lisa, who enrolled Becca in the BOCES program six years ago.

She said the BOCES experience at St. Matt’s has been very good for her daughter. “That’s what lights her up,” she said. In addition, she said the school staff has been wonderful with Becca, who has up to 12 epileptic seizures a day.

“They are very dedicated and extremely experienced,” she said. “The depth of their knowledge is astounding at times and their creativity is really admirable.”

In June, Becca will age out of the program and officially graduate from BOCES.

“She is going to miss it terribly,” Lisa said.

VNSW’s Director of Business Development & Community Relations, Mary Gadomski, said that having the BOCES students in their office environment has been a positive experience for everyone involved.

“It really has given us the opportunity to give back in a different way,” she said.

Leslie Handler, principal of St. Matt’s, said it has been a great opportunity for her students. “When you have a job, the expectation is that you go every day,” she said. ”This kind of experience helps to build up their tolerance for that.”

Valuable lessons are also learned along the way, such as commitment, dedication and maintaining proper etiquette in an office environment.

“They really love coming to work,” said Ms. Handler. “It’s not all about the money.”