Very few vocational training programs exist for older students with moderate to severe impairments. Unfortunately, when those students age out of public schools, they often have no skills that would help them get jobs.
At the Charles Drew Center, a horticulture program is giving students ages 18 to 26 with mental and physical impairments on-the-job training and work-study placements with community organizations. The goal is to prepare them for full- or part-time work in the horticultural industry. A 53-member teaching staff helps with planting, harvesting, educational lessons, and more.
This large garden program offers many benefits for students and for the community. For students, the physical labor is welcome because these types of opportunities are not available at home. Attendance rates have skyrocketed and data shows students are retaining the information. They know they will learn, be pushed to succeed, have fun, and be part of something larger than themselves.
In 2015-16, the program generated just under 18,000 pounds of produce for the school lunch program at Drew and 20 other district schools, saving the district more than $200,000 in food purchases.
“We are rapidly approaching the time where I will go into the workplaces to find opportunities for those who are ready,” says Michael Craig, Drew special education teacher and horticulture program instructor.