Beyond the Books: Alden Road puts students on the road to independence

Updated: Dec 4, 2018



Nov. 28, 2018 - From making soap and baking pastries, to mastering interview and conflict resolution skills, students at Alden Road are learning the skills they need everyday to help them transition from school to the real world.


Alden Road Exceptional Student Center specializes in teaching students with special needs and disabilities how to become more independent and self-sufficient. Their one-of-a-kind transitional program is tailored to 18-22 year-olds who are preparing for life outside the education system.


Key features at Alden Road include the school's Town Center, vocational and community partnerships and integration of soft skills.

The town center

The students' transition begins with the atmosphere of the campus. The school developed its own community and economy to transition students into the "real world."


The hallways and classrooms mimic a town center, similar to a shopping plaza. Each classroom is set up as a store where students learn integral vocational skills, like stocking shelves, bagging groceries and preparing customer orders. Whether it's working on the school's organic produce farm, hand-making soaps and lotions, baking pastries and making coffee for the school's coffee shop, or making wooden crafts and greeting cards, these students learn skills by practicing them every day.


The young professionals are rewarded for their efforts with "dolphin dollars." The students can earn dolphin dollars for their good behavior or exceptional work in the classroom and have the opportunity to spend that money at any of the shops on campus.


Vocational coaches and community partnerships

The school's town center is just one of many places students are getting first-hand experience in the workforce. Students are also paired up with vocational coaches at the beginning of each year who guide them through a year-long internship with a community partner. This year, community partners include Publix, Earth Works, St. Vincent's Hospital and Burlington Coat Factory.


The internship process begins with students filling out a standard Community-Based Care application, as well as choosing the community partners they would like to work with. Vocational coaches interview the students and help them select an internship based on their application, interview, capabilities and preferences.


After the formal "hiring" process, students work at these job sites once a week with their vocational coaches. Each community partner offers a variety of skills-based jobs, like administration or food preparation, to prepare the students for a job they may come across after completing the transitional program.


The skills learned at these internships definitely come in handy later on - Assistant Principal Donna Baine reported eight students having job offers from community partners before completing the transitional program last year.


"Our students - they are like sponges," says Assistant Principal Baine. "They're there and they want to learn their best."

Soft-skills workshops

An addition made this year is a soft-skills workshop offered on early release days. The workshops introduce new concepts and skills for students to improve upon, like interview skills and conflict-resolution strategies. The students talk through scenarios to prepare them for a situation that may occur in the workplace, providing them the opportunity to approach an obstacle properly without the help of a vocational coach.


Why it matters

The town center, vocational coaching, community partnerships and soft-skills workshops are all established to give students the confidence and ability to be more independent when they complete the transitional program. Students at Alden Road are encouraged to self-advocate and do as much as possible on their own, in hopes they can contribute to their own care outside of the classroom.


Kayla is a 20-year-old student in the transitional program at Alden Road. She said her favorite thing she has learned at Alden Road is independence. Kayla explained to Team Duval News she knows she won't always have the support she receives from Alden Road, so it's important for her to learn independence for a future day when she has her own husband and children. Although a little nervous about the transition, Kayla is optimistic about her future.


"It's going to be hard...but it's going to be fun," said Kayla.

Read more about the school and its programs by visiting the school's website, or by clicking here.


"Beyond the Books" is an on-going feature series that highlights the people and programs that make up Team Duval.

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