By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — A collaborative effort between Pinkerton Academy students and staff is giving one student a push toward success.
Matt Kuczwara, 17, is doing some serious sweeping around the Derry high school, thanks to a special tool designed and built just for him.
Matt is a student in Pinkerton’s Work-to-Learn program, a work-based learning experience designed to provide hands-on work skills for students with developmental disabilities.
The program honors not only the many students who have gone through the program since it began, but also celebrates the businesses and organizations that support Work to Learn by welcoming students for job placement opportunities.
About 20 students are part of the program at Pinkerton now, according to work transition coordinator Ken Neu said.
Students learn at their own pace in the classroom and also by acquiring skills they may someday be able to use in a real business setting.
Those students go out in the community with a coach and learn skills on the job.
Neu said it is sometimes difficult to decide what skills a certain student could do in a real life job.
In Matt’s case, he has several limitations when it comes to his arms and using a wheelchair.
Neu said he figured maybe Matt could work, with some assistance.
That’s how the assisted broom idea came to be.
Engineering, design and welding students talked to Matt, sketched a preliminary design on a napkin and then brought it to fruition.
The final design includes motorcycle-style handle grips.
“Any student in a wheelchair can use it,” Neu said. “They made it look very professional.”
After strapping the all-steel device to Matt’s arms, he can maneuver the broom and operate his wheelchair at the same time, giving him more opportunities to learn, be mobile and help his school. He uses the sweeper about three times a week.
“Matt likes it, it’s very cool for him,” Neu said. “He can go on forever like this.”
Matt’s assistant Laura Culbert said the broom gives him a chance to work hard and make a difference while learning new skills.
It was a team effort to help.
“Every student was intertwined,” she said. “They listened to his input, my input, it was a total collaboration.”
Having Matt sweep the halls and other spaces around campus will give him valuable training for a possible foray into a real life job as part of the Work-to Learn mission at Pinkerton.
Right now, Matt is at a level where he is learning skills while on campus. The next Work-to-Learn level could place him in an outside work environment when he is ready.
Work-to-Learn has given many students like Matt a chance to try their hand in the real world of work and business.
Like an educational study in real life, students in the program find more doors opened for them as they make the transition from school to having a job, gaining acceptance and valuable life skills along the way.
A team of educators and Hadco Corporation management started the work-based program in 1991. Hadco became the first job site where students with developmental disabilities worked in a pilot program, earning credit by learning job skills as an employee on site, assisted by a mentor.
Many businesses around the region have been involved through the years to support the program including Woof Meow, Applebee’s, Wisteria Flower Shop, Big Lots, Wal-Mart, Pleasant Valley Nursing Center and several Derry schools.
Students enrolled in the program are honored each year during a “Star Awards” success night event.