Woods Services has a critical need for enhanced and increased vocational training space in the Gardner Education Center due to its growing day student population. Woods actually maintains a waiting list because it cannot accommodate all of the students for whom it receives referrals.
Thanks to a $1 million grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development Redevelopment Authority Capital Program (RACP), the Gardner Education Center will be renovated to accommodate state-of-the-art vocational training space and classrooms for students with intellectual disability, autism and behavioral challenges. Requirements of the grant stipulate that Woods must match the grant with $1 million, which will be supported by a bequest from The Estate of Marilyn Goldstein.
This project will address the need for education, vocational and training for students with disabilities so they can enter the workforce, and help recruit and retain special education teachers and instructional aides.
Modernizing this space is urgently needed. The project entails creating a 5,054 square foot state-of-the-art vocational wing to house remodeled classrooms, each dedicated to a vocational track needed to train students for 21st century jobs, and will add a new modern façade along the entire front of the building, and a brand-new glass-walled entryway with a reconfigured reception area which will be more welcoming for students and families, and improve safety.
When the renovation is complete, students and teachers alike will benefit from a state-of-the-art vocational program, bright, welcoming and safe entryway into the building, and a visually appealing new façade that will modernize the look of the entire building.
Woods receives referrals from school districts which are unable to serve students who have a high level of need for intensive services and supports. Students attend as day students or as residential students. A hallmark of the Woods Schools is the School-Wide Positive Behavior Support program, a nationally-recognized approach which puts in place universal supports for all students, which significantly reduces challenging behaviors for the majority of students, and adds more intensive tiers of supports for students with the greatest social, emotional and behavior needs.
The renovated vocational areas will provide pre-vocational and vocational training in one of three tracks:
- food and nutrition and life skills
Two additional vocational tracks in customer service and technology will be held in existing classrooms, which do not require renovation. Finally, a new wheelchair-accessible greenhouse will be constructed adjacent to the horticultural classroom. Each classroom is designed to replicate a real-life setting, such as a horticultural center, salon, and a kitchen and dining area where the full range of life skills can be taught related to food, nutrition, shopping and cooking. This allows for students to learn, practice and apply real-world skills that are needed to gain employment and to become as self-sufficient as possible.
Along with the new state-of-the-art vocational classrooms is a new vocational training curriculum, which incorporates brand-new technology and software addressing all aspects of pre-vocational, vocational and entrepreneurial training. New online vocational curriculum modules include financial literacy, creating resumes, conducting job interviews, and building skills needed for the workplace, such as communication, socialization, problem-solving, flexible thinking, behavior and self-regulation skills.
The enhanced curricula, paired with the new vocational spaces focusing on career areas such as customer service, food and nutrition, cosmetology, horticulture, and technology, will help students be prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. Through this, they can live as independently as possible and to contribute to the economic life of the community.
Furthermore, improved instructional spaces and state-of-the-art installations will improve conditions for special education teachers and support their retention, especially when combined with professional development that the new curriculum offers.
Woods has integrated additional strategies into its education programs to address the teacher shortage, including its new Teach with Heart Fellowship, which allows emergency-certified teachers to obtain their Master’s degree at a low cost, receive mentoring from experienced teachers, and upon completing three years of employment, receive loan forgiveness.