Students at Rensselaer Academy have a new tool at their disposal to learn life and career skills and prepare themselves for life after school.
RA’s Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) Lab began in December, and since then, students have had several chances per week to spend time in the lab learning a wide range of basic career/vocational and life skills.
The lab operates like a workplace. When students arrive, they punch a time card and pick up their checklist of job tasks for that day. They are responsible for getting the materials they need, reading instructions, completing the task, and calling for a “supervisor” to check their work and verify it was completed successfully.
“In here, we’re supervisors, not teachers,” teacher Lindsay Estaris says. “We don’t tell them what they might’ve missed or how to do it. Just that they haven’t fully completed the task.”
She says that helps build their independence, which is important for kids with special needs who will be looking to enter the workforce.
“We try to make it as much like a job as we can. They won’t have a boss with them all day when they have a job, so it’s important to help make them as independent as we can,” Estaris says.
Not only does the PAES lab teach skills students will need in the workplace, it also assesses their strengths and weaknesses. Estaris says each student’s file is stored on the PAES database. This allows students’ progress to be monitored from class to class, and year to year. Reports from the database detail the student’s activities, showing where they excel and where they could use some more work. Students can share their reports with employers and/or adult service providers to emphasize the jobs and tasks which are the best fit for them.
Each area within the lab has a comprehensive range of tasks for the students to learn and perform. The instructor, or “supervisor,” monitors the tasks and provides feedback and assistance where needed.
Students are also rewarded for their progress. Instead of earning a paycheck, students earn points they can use in the school point store, where they can buy items such as snacks and drinks, headphones, basketballs, and Pokémon cards. The bigger the item, the higher the point cost.
Along with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, students working in the PAES Lab will also learn appropriate behaviors at work, have an idea of jobs or careers that interest them, and have a better understanding of workplace problem-solving skills.
Teachers also learn what skills a student can actually perform, if they are competitive with the real world, what type of special assistance at work a student might need, and how to write better transition plans because of the information available through the PAES system.
Time spent in the lab can also count toward the 216 hours of work-based learning required for students working toward the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) credential.