21st Century Workplace Readiness Program for Students with Disabilities

The Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science Public Charter School (HAAS) in Pahoa, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is remarkable in many ways. I start with my visit to its Workplace Readiness Program open to students with disabilities aged 14-22.

As described by special education teacher John Theismann during my visit in May, the focus of the program is “academic remediation, functional academics, pre-vocational training, social skills /character development, and community service.” So what does that look like?

How about students maintaining and operating a 6-acre macadamia nut orchard on the campus of the charter school? Gas powered weed trimmers, orchard tools, blowers, and a pick-up truck were acquired by grants. Students who are capable get paid for operating weed trimmers and keeping the orchard neat, fertilizing trees, harvesting and husking macademia nuts, and selling nuts to a local macadamia nut producer. The money earned is used to pay students for their work.

Students unable to perform the hard work in the orchard have other options. Students sort old newspapers and prepare them for use by the papaya packing industry, creating another revenue source for students.

Then there’s the greenhouse built next to the classroom. It holds one area for soil-based growing of vegetables, and another area to grow vegetables using solar power to run the necessary pump in a hydroponic system. Talk about 21st century!  School cooks use the vegetables in school lunches. Students learn to plant seeds, fertilize, monitor plants, deal with diseases and pests, and harvest plants. And the class cooks a meal together with what they grow.

The local credit union helps each student open checking and savings accounts, and they each receive a debit card. Every payday, students are required to bring a shopping list of what is needed at home, and the class goes to the grocery or drug store to purchase the items using their debit card. Talk about learning the value of hard work and money management.

The students were so proud of their work. This would be an amazing accomplishment for any group of students. That this is being done by students with a range of disabilities, is even more inspiring.

This is only a small part of what makes this charter school unique. How many charter schools do you know that create a lava contingency plan? Find out more Thursday.

Workplace Readiness Program Director John Theismann points to orchard features with school Director Steve Hirakami

Workplace Readiness Program Director John Theismann points to orchard features with school Director Steve Hirakami