By David Garcia
There is no question that the COVID Pandemic has changed the way people operate in the world. Everyone has been affected, especially schools and students. To respond to this Pandemic, everyone has tried to find ways to comply with the new restrictions in a safe and productive way. Instead of negativity, the CHS Life Skills Program has thrived and created some of the most exciting educational activities this school has ever experienced. These activities will teach students valuable life skills and work experience that will get them ready for the work force and the future to come.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Veraldi, a teacher from the Life Skills Department who was kind enough to provide some insight into the program as a whole as well as the individual activities.
First there is the Cafe, where the students cook a variety of breakfast and lunch foods for the teachers and faculty to enjoy. Then there was the Restaurant, which was a bit like the Cafe, but this was only open on Wednesdays. When most of the other students were out of the building completing their virtual assignments, the Life Skill students were learning valuable lessons in how to work in a restaurant. The Restaurant was a huge success and they even had a live band perform.
As I was not familiar with the Life Skills Program prior to this interview, I asked Mr. Veraldi what the goal of the Life Skills Program is as a whole. He answered by saying that the main goal was to teach academic, social, and independent living skills, coupled with work related job based skills. They teach these skills so that when the students graduate, they will be ready to go straight into the workforce world and become positive members of society.
Considering all of the Covid restrictions I asked how the Life Skills Program was able accomplish their goals. Mr. Veraldi explained that the Covid restrictions made it very hard at first. “…before Covid, the students would go work and learn tasks at different places such as Home Depot, California Pizza Kitchen, and St. John’s Hospital. Now, because of Covid, students were unable to go to any of those places, which challenged teachers and students to create their own workforce experiences at the school. Some examples for this would be the Cafe, the Restaurant in the gym, and the newest project by the Life Skills Program, The Garden.” It is amazing how they made such a spectacular solution out of a grim problem.
When I asked Mr. Veraldi what activity ranked as the favorite event of this school year, he said the Restaurant in the gym was a huge success and well received by the faculty. At one point they served 40-50 people in total! The Restaurant provided needed funds for the Life Skills Program since there were many changes this year. One of those changes was the cancellation of the End-of-Year-Social. This year they will not be able to host the Social as in previous years, but instead, they will have a barbeque to comply with social distancing requirements.
It was clear how successful and how fun the Restaurant was for everyone involved – even the customers. I was curious about the challenges they faced while setting up the restaurant. Mr.Veraldi told me that one of the biggest challenges came after it started to take off “… it became harder and harder to manage the food and inventory. Students and teachers had to make sure that they bought enough food without wasting money to ensure a profit. And with every challenge, came a new lesson for the students.”
I asked Mr. Veraldi what the inspiration was to create the school restaurant? He stated, “The inspiration to create the Restaurant came from the teachers wanting to offer the students some of the same experiences that they received before Covid restrictions were put into place. The teachers also wanted to make sure that the students had a safe environment to learn important life skills – in this case those skills were cooking. So the Restaurant and Cafe were the solution since students were unable to have the hands-on experience they had before the Pandemic.”
As for future projects, Mr. Veraldi said, “We’re going to continue the Work Studies Program and we have contacted other programs that will give students some on the job training so that they can get right into the workforce as soon as possible. There’s another program called Viability which provides students with the opportunity to learn work-related communication skills, self-advocacy, job exploration, application assistance, and finally, retirement planning.”
The next project is THE GARDEN. I asked what prompted this new outdoor project. Mr. Veraldi explained, “The main reason we started the garden was because we were looking for a new work study site where we could do something everyday, even with Covid restrictions. And since all our usual work sites are out of school, we were unable to participate in most of them. We try to add on a different type of job task every chance we get.” Mr. Veraldi also said, “Our philosophy here is what we call the fading process. We (teachers) demonstrate and give support in the beginning, but the idea is for the students to become as independent as possible. So we slowly back away and allow the students to accomplish the tasks on their own. The past few days have just been the students and faculty setting up the garden with all the tools and materials necessary.” Additionally, Mr.Veraldi stated, “…there are times when the teachers take a step back and let the students take over, and so far, they have exceeded all of their expectations!”As I learned about the Life Skills Program, I realized that most students don’t know much about this program. I asked Mr. Veraldi, how he would explain the Life Skills Program. He said, “This program provides skills that everybody needs to know. Some of the students in the Life Skills Program might even be better at explaining IRAs than most other students. Life Skills students are learning how to manage their paychecks and about the responsibilities of running a household. It is what the name says: life skills. Students can be successful in their own homes and also in the community.”
Even with all of the Covid restrictions that now have to be followed in schools, the teachers in the Life Skills Program saw challenges and turned them into opportunities.