Next STEPP: Creating opportunities to fit students’ needs
We’ve all been taught to take things one step at a time, but at Noble Local, there’s an opportunity to take the “Next STEPP.”
The Next STEPP (Skills, Training and Employment Pathways Program) — proposed, developed and implemented by Shenandoah High Intervention Specialist Justin Rich — is a program designed to provide training and opportunities for students to acquire knowledge and develop skills while exploring various jobs using real tools while developing proper work behaviors and essential skills.
It is presented through small tasks and problem solving situations focused on functional and vocational skills.
Students are given career pathway experiences relating to a variety of job skill sets including, but not limited to, digital technology, processing/production, consumer/services, and business/marketing.
“First and foremost our mission says it all,” said Dan Leffingwell, Superintendent of the Noble Local School District. “We want to create a culture of continuous improvement where all students are provided opportunities for success.
“What we know in education is that one size certainly does not fit all,” he continued, “so really the word in that mission statement that should be emphasized is ‘all.’ We believe that equity of opportunity for all of our students is critical, and the NextSTEPP program is yet another option for our kids to choose to hone their skills and be exposed to things that will prepare them to be ‘future ready.'”
Leffingwell quickly pointed to the efforts of Rich and the community support for making the program a success.
“I can’t say enough about Mr. Rich and his staff and the opportunities and support they are providing these students,” he said. “I’m also appreciative of our community partners who have embraced this concept and are supporting us to create these opportunities.
“We believe that all of our students have the potential to lead and be successful,” Leffingwell continued. “This program is not just for a specific group of students; it’s an option for kids to develop some skills they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to do so otherwise. Without Mr. Rich’s leadership and our community partners, these things wouldn’t be possible within the school environment.
“It’s a great collaboration,” he added, “and together, we’re creating relative and practical opportunities for our students.”
Rich developed the idea after learning of similar programs in the area.
“I saw that Monroe Central had a job opening for a CBI (Career Based Intervention) position and I had never heard of that,” said Rich, a 2011 SHS graduate who attended Ohio University for two years and then graduated from Muskingum University. “I looked into it and saw that it was equipping special needs kids with the basic skills that the general ed kids have in order to prepare them for life after school, whether it’s a job or life at home.
“I talked to Lydia Brodegard at Magnolia High (in New Martinsville, WV) and they had a program called PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System) that was similar,” he continued, “so Mr. Denius (SHS Principal Justin Denius), Dave Easterling and I went down to find out about it last spring and Lydia gave us a tour of their program.”
(PAES is a corporation where program you buy where for $30,000 they will come in, take a room and line your walls with shelves boxes and provide activities. Then the student will pull out an activity card each day and do that task.)
“After seeing what they had,” Rich continued, “I felt we could recreate that same type of program for a lot less cost based on what we already have, so I came up with a basic curriculum plan.”
Where did the name Next STEPP come from?
“I came up with the STEPP aspect (Skills, Training and Employment Pathways Program) and Mr. Denius suggested calling it the Next STEPP because we’re looking at what is next after high school for the students … how are we going to make them ready to contribute once they leave school?”
What does the program include?
“It’s been a mix of home and life skills combined with some career-based skills,” said Rich. “We work with handling money… learning to read and follow instructions … having bake sales … learning to wash clothes … making breakfast … collect recycling materials … cleaning … shopping.
“They students wash the basketball jerseys every Monday,” he continued. “They’ve cleaned the football stadium and the press box … spruce up the media center before board meetings … and sanitize all of the desks and doorknobs throughout the building.”
Rich says the students are hoping to make birdhouses in the future and even construct a doghouse for the school’s therapy dog, Willow.
Among the community partnerships already established are Seneca Lake (the students do clean-up at Seacrest Memorial Park), Wally’s Pizza, The Samaritan House, Lutheran Services Food Pantry, Braden Medical Equipment, Gillespie’s Drugs, Wings Etc. and Dunning Motors.
“The community has been really good about getting involved,” said Rich. “I haven’t had anyone tell me ‘no.'”
Rich hopes more area businesses will get involved.
“They’re the backbone of this,” he said, “and they usually want more students once they’ve had us there.”
Rich expects to include more students in the program next year.
“We’ll have all but one of this first group back next year,” he noted, “but we’d like to add another group next year where they can be exposed to work with me mentoring them through it.”
It’s been a good fit for the students involved and has met with the approval of their parents.
“We explain the program and the parents have been very supportive of what we’re trying to do,” said Rich.
“With some of the kids, not a lot was expected out of them but we’re giving give them the tools to be successful and they see they can do it and that’s important.
“I remember when we came home from the Wally’s trip, one of the students got excited and said, ‘Wow, I got to make my own pizza!’ so that shows that something new and challenging is worthwhile.”
It’s all about preparing the students for the future, according to Rich.
“We want to tailor their education for what they’re going to be able to do,” he said. “Like Mr. Leffingwell always says, ‘every road leads to a j-o-b’ … and these kids can fill a niche someplace.
“Some kids are already employable,” he continued, “but we wanted to start with kids who need to learn the job skills and find them a niche because their opportunities can be limited.”
To put a twist on the immortal words of astronaut Neil Armstrong: It’s one small STEPP for our kids; one giant leap for their future!
Jeff Harrison is the communications director for Noble Local School District.