WEASTAMPTON, NJ -- To keep students learning through hands-on experience but under the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Transitions at Burlington County Special Services School District (BCSSSD) has brought the workplace on campus with a new Work-Based Learning (WBL) Lab. Typically, students would be sent out to community business sites during the year to learn vocational skills, but these unprecedented times call for innovation and necessity to find alternative solutions. To this end, BCSSSD staff has answered the call with this new pilot program.

Transitions at BCSSSD is designed for young adults between the ages of 18 to 21 who have fulfilled their high school requirements. These students are able to reach their full potential through academic, vocational, and therapeutic programs adapted to each student’s unique needs and abilities. The Work-Based Learning Lab was created to give students an opportunity to align their classroom learning with workplace experiences. Students apply academic, technical, and employability skills that they have learned in school to the world of work. 

“It's this innovation, creativity, and teamwork that makes Transitions at BCSSSD stand out with our unique program offerings such as this Work-Based Learning Lab. It is, however, all the soft skills that are built into the program that will support our young adults’ independence and future success,” said Mary Jean Kneringer, Principal of Transitions at BCSSSD.

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The program started with a proposal by the campus’s Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Kathie McMahon, who had a vision that Transitions would offer simulated and differentiated work activities to mirror the skills needed in current, approved WBL community business sites. This vision was expanded to include ancillary connections like simple household repairs and activities of daily living based on input from young adults who were encouraged to advocate for themselves and suggest skills they would like to learn.

The Lab has been carefully crafted to simulate the real-world operations of a wide array of work settings. Students working in the Lab’s simulated work settings will develop valuable soft skills, hard skills, and work-appropriate behavior as well as problem-solving. This knowledge is vital in overcoming potential barriers to gaining and maintaining meaningful, sustained employment.

The hands-on learning takes place in simulated work settings that include computer technology, home engineering, processing and production, retail merchandising, hospitality services, consumer food services, and business marketing. Each setting features a comprehensive array of tasks that are differentiated to individual skills and abilities, providing horizontal and vertical growth for our young adults.

“Work Based Learning is the core of preparing students to successfully transition from school to career,” says Dr. Lisa J. English, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. “A strong focus on preparing students to demonstrate industry-recognized skills is an essential part of our Lab. In addition, a student-centered approach to learning and classroom instruction allows our staff to consistently incorporate a balance of soft-skills training and real-world application as a part of the everyday learning experience at the Transition Campus.”

According to BCSSSD Superintendent Dr. Christopher Nagy, “The mission of the school district is to provide every opportunity for students based on agency and ability level to be provided valuable skill sets to position them for independence and employability."

"The pandemic provided our team, out of necessity, an opportunity to look at innovative solutions, one of which was this WBL Lab and highlights the creativity and dedication of our staff and administration. I am so proud of the campus team, and I am sure that parents and students alike will appreciate the value-added service," added Nagy.

BCSSSD educates students and young adults with special needs from across Burlington County through three campuses to provide comprehensive educational and therapeutic programs for preschool and school-age students and young adults, ranging in age from three to twenty-one. In addition to its widely recognized programs for students with multiple disabilities and programs for children with autism, BCSSSD also offers a continuum of options for students with behavioral issues featuring both traditional, classroom-based schools and alternative approaches.

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