This article was originally posted in the Ridgewood News.
The School Transition and Employment Program for Student Success (STEPSS), a new 18- to 21-yearold transition program offered by Ridgewood Public Schools, has partnered with Greens Do Good, a local hydroponic farm, for their first community internship experience. Through this collaboration, STEPSS students help maintain and organize crops, package products, and take inventory of seeds, but more importantly they are developing life skills and hands-on experience that will lay the foundation for future independence.
Greens Do Good, located in Hackensack, not only aims to grow healthy produce in a sustainable and socially responsible way, but they also donate 100 percent of their proceeds to REED Next, a nonprofit organization supporting adults with autism. Peter Ban, a parent who has known staff at the REED Foundation for some time, made the introduction that established this partnership with Greens Do Good.
What makes the experience at Greens Do Good so unique is that our students are working alongside the staff and performing the same duties that contribute to the operation of the farm. It is also a refreshing option for students who have an interest in agriculture. The farm manager has years of ABA experience as a one-to-one instructor at REED Academy, and the other farm techs are products of our robust internship with Ramapo College.
“We are passionate about more than just growing high quality produce,” said Jen Faust, director of communications at Greens Do Good. “We are a diverse, supportive, urban environment providing adults with autism a sense of purpose, paid employment, and meaningful participation in the community.”
The goal of STEPSS is to prepare students who have met state graduation requirements with the necessary skills and support that will enable them to accomplish personal goals, obtain employment, and live independently as active members of their community. The program has an individualized instructional component which includes academic support, as well as life skills and career readiness. The community based instruction model provides students with the tools to manage real life settings and situations. The final component is the internship where students engage in experiential learning in a work setting, preparing them to transition to employment and independence.
“Internships educate both the students and their community. When people develop relationships with our students and see their potential, they become advocates and natural supports. This impacts the culture and creates opportunities for individuals with special needs,” said Michael Kilcullen, transition coordinator.
Establishing relationships with organizations that share our vision requires a collaborative effort. Community connections, such as the one with Greens Do Good, are mutually beneficial, and STEPSS looks forward to building lasting partnerships that will help the students successfully transition into adulthood. For more information about STEPSS, contact Michael Kilcullen, transition coordinator at [email protected] ridgewood.k12.nj.us.
STEPSS students help maintain and organize crops, package products, and take inventory of seeds, but more importantly they are developing life skills and hands-on experiences. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLENE LABENDA