AHRC Middle High School‘s (MHS,) graduation ceremony was held on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, in the Regina Pacis Basilica Chapel, which sits adjacent to the school. Students, their families, teachers, and guests gathered to celebrate the milestone.
“I can’t say enough about the tremendous staff that has supported you all the way to this graduation today. It means so much,” said Gary Lind, AHRC New York City’s Executive Director, addressing the graduating class of 2017. “Your families have been with you all the way along, and the community has been here in so many ways… Thank you for letting me share this special honor with you today. Congratulations and good luck.”
“I am very privileged to be here with all of you,” said Raymond Ferrigno, 4th Vice President of the AHRC NYC Board of Directors. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I extend congratulations. AHRC was started by parents seeking education for their disabled children… The Board of Directors is by charter, a family-driven Board. We have skin in the game. We understand the challenges. And AHRC will be there in all the things you do after this.”
The Transition from School to Adult Life
Graduation is a transition from school to the adult world. Transitions can be difficult for everyone at each stage of life, as we each undergo changes to the things we have grown accustomed to – the people around us, the places where we spend our time, and the things that make up our routines.
Students graduating from MHS, their family members, and the school’s transition team prepare for this transition by utilizing a person-centered process, to ensure that the graduates have received the adult placements of their choice. At MHS, preparing for adulthood begins long before the final year of a student’s time at the school, as they participate in school-based pre-vocational learning tasks, off-site internships, and explore the skills of everyday living.
Looking Ahead to Employment
Estefania Flores works as a Transition Coordinator for MHS. “The majority of my responsibility has to do with transitioning the students to the adult day programs, as well as facilitating and increasing the amount of internships that we do, and exposing our students to as much of the adult world as possible,” says Estefania. She notes that most of the internships are made as a result of informal relationships between the school staff and local business and organizations, which grow into formal internship opportunities.
The Middle High School provides a variety of opportunities for students to learn about employment, including off-site internships with local businesses, and on-campus pre-vocational activities such as the school’s Snack Shop, where students learn how to handle money using a cash register, and Minkos Copy Center, where students are trained to complete tasks similar to those of a commercial copy-making company, with some added modifications that enable them to accomplish their daily tasks. In addition to text prompts, the alternative communication system, known as the Picture Exchange Communication System, (PECs) is used throughout the copy center to facilitate clear communication among students with a range of disabilities. Tasks within the copy center include using the phone, making copies, hole-punching, laminating, shredding unneeded documents, and collating and binding documents.
“I learned how to cook things, and travel training,” says Darwyn Henriquez when asked to name skills he has learned that will help him in his life as an adult. Cooking is one of the several skills of everyday living that the students learn about at the Middle High School. The 4th floor of the school contains a working kitchen, bedroom, and living area where students practice the tasks they may one day use when living independently. As a student, Darwin also participated in an internship at the local Marshalls. “We basically folded clothes and cut up boxes, and organized clothes.” Darwin’s goals include getting a job at Best Buy and living in his own home.
As part of the 2017 graduating class, Martin Meyers has come a long way during his time at AHRC Middle / High School, and as he enters adulthood, he noted the importance of self-advocacy, saying, “You have to advocate for yourself and advocate for others. If they’re in trouble, you can have the ability to stand up for them, and do what’s right for not only yourself but for others.”
Marty has also learned several job skills, working along with his dad at a sandwich shop, cleaning and helping to prepare for catering events. When asked what advice he would provide to incoming students of the Middle High School, Marty said, “Never live in the past. Live towards the future, where bright and better things can happen.”
During the ceremony, graduating student Gabriel Maldonado, spoke about his favorite school memories and about the things he learned at MHS while attending the school. “In the future … I would like to be employed, live on my own and maintain good physical fitness. Thank you to all the teachers… my friends who have been helping me. I will always have good memories of my time at AHRC Middle High School. I hope all of you work hard to achieve your goals, and that they make you happy and blessed.”
Darwyn, Gabriel, and Martin have a lot to look forward to. In the fall they will each begin to take classes through AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education program.