FLUSHING — Flushing High School is helping students with disabilities excel at the next phase of their lives with hands-on job training and fun activities.
FHS Transitions, a multilevel program that started four years ago, is offered to qualifying special education students in grades 9-12. The class has three separate sections for upperclassmen and lowerclassmen— each featuring an emphasis on team-building exercises and skill acquisition through a microbusiness model.
Special ed teacher Sarah Polega, who oversees all three Transitions classes at FHS, said that the program helps students with disabilities to discover their potential and gives them a chance to find their niche both at school and in the community.
“I think one of my favorite parts of my job is going to shop at or visit a worksite and seeing one of my kids fully employed there after they graduate,” she said. “The kids I get to work with are absolute gems, and I love it when others realize how awesome they are too.
Transitions 1, which is primarily for freshmen and sophomores, focuses on building students’ success in high school, as well as teaching them how to work with money and run a coffee cart for staff each morning.
Students in Transitions 2 (which is for juniors), gain experience with tasks such as mail delivery, changing over the cafeteria between lunches and preparing for community-based jobs. Transitions 3 is for seniors and focuses on job-siting training, resume and cover letter preparation and interviewing skills.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the program’s job placement section this year, Polega’s students adapted to a virtual setting to create a class cookbook and become safety trained in many work-related areas to add to their resumes.
Once students were back in the classroom, they learned to make products such as laundry detergent, homemade dog treats and hot cocoa bombs for Mother’s Day. They also learned how decorate school supplies with Cricut, transform mounds of shredded paper into fire starters and seed starters and create decorative candle holders out of glass yogurt containers.
After making the products, students were assigned different roles to help market their wares to teachers and staff at the high school, including packaging, delivery and advertising. Some of their most popular sellers include the homemade dog treats, which reached over 750 orders, as well as winter edition “Snowman Suds” laundry soap and spring-themed “Unicorn Suds.”
Outside the classroom, Transitions students use revenue from their products for field trips, class supplies and community “passion projects” such as purchasing gifts and donations for residents at Fostrian Assisted Living and Whaley Children’s Center. Currently, students are selling their homemade dog treats to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
“Anything the kids are passionate about, I find a way for us to participate in,” Polega said. “Their hearts are just huge, and so filled with love and generosity.”
Before Transitions students finish school, the FHS special ed department sets them up with the appropriate agencies to increase their chances of finding and retaining successful employment when they graduate.
Flushing special ed students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) can check with their caseload provider to see if the FHS Transitions program is a good fit for them. General education students who would like to participate as Peer-to-Peer mentors in the program can contact Sarah Polega at sarah. firstname.lastname@example.org.