The aim of the VINES Project, (Volunteer Initiative to Nurture Exceptional Students), is to provide support and inclusion, as well as life skills and education, to students with special educational needs. Girls will especially be targeted because in the school survey we did, two thirds of the students found to have exceptional educational needs were female. This female group would in the past have left school with no employable skills, gender or life training, leaving them open to dependence and possible sexual exploitation. Due to high unemployment affecting all young adults, students with learning disabilities would have an even harder time getting a job and supporting themselves without proper training. According to recent studies, job placement and training are fraught with difficulties that many cannot overcome.
To meet this need, the project will involve the creation of a resource room equipped and dedicated to providing educational, social and life skills training to students who have need. Parents, teachers and other community volunteers will provide a positive learning atmosphere and leadership in the areas of English, Math, and Life Skills training, with the aim of empowering these students with the skills for a full, productive life. Organizations in the community have volunteered to provide detailed training and assistance in this endeavor. Others have contributed room furnishings and donated planting and gardening supplies. The use of computers and a printer will allow teachers and volunteers to create individual courses of work for each VINES student. The use of electronic equipment such as Kindle Fires will engage VINES students in repetitive and self-guided learning activities that they will enjoy. Such technology is not readily available to them in the community or at home, and the need for new and creative technology to teach these students is important and necessary. Manipulative math and English materials provide the tactile experience in learning that many of these special students respond to. Games, tactile activities and repetition through electronics will provide a major way for special needs students to learn. The intended long-term outcome is that recipients of the VINES program will become self-sustaining and productive members of the community.
After observation and survey, parents of students with educational needs and the students' teachers desired to create a program that would support and equip the students who were not being reached by traditional education and services. Parents were especially excited that their local school could become a place of support and enrichment for their children. The students themselves were very excited to have a way to become productive in school. It was noted that many of the students in this category were female, with little of employment and a large potential for sexual exploitation, as shown in other recent studies conducted. To prevent exploitation, and to provide life skills and a sound educational base for the students, professional training from the local branch of a non-profit organizations has been offered for all teachers and volunteers involved in this project. Community members have offered to provide training in job skills that the students have selected, such as gardening, cooking and restaurant skills. Volunteers have also donated items and time to work on the project. Local businesses have offered furnishings to create a home-like atmosphere in the project room. In addition, local parents and business owners have offered to provide instruction and materials for students to learn plant propagation and care. This will enable the students to grow and sell plants to help fund their program. But the cost of hands-on learning tools, electronics for engaging education, and educational support tools is out of reach for our community.
The activities of VINES are sustainable with very little need for extra material support. A new position of VINES coordinator will be created within the existing Parent Teacher Association to direct the program in the future. This person will be the caretaker of the equipment, with the help of the school computer specialist. Beyond the dedication of the school and parents, the VINES program will include gardening training. This will provide income to the program from sales of the students' efforts. Seedlings, produce and ornamental plants will be included. Plant cuttings, seeds and other materials will be donated and replaced by profits as needed.