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Thursday, Mar 3, 2016

Berkshire collaborates with four school districts to launch student-run clothing shop in Hudson

Berkshire Union Free Schimageool District is heading a team of four local school districts in opening a student-run secondhand clothing shop on Warren Street in Hudson, NY. The districts of Berkshire Union Free, Renssalaer, Taconic hills, Cairo Durham, and New Lebanon are setting up the store and look forward to launching it this summer.

“The goal is to create opportunities through the four participating schools that will teach our students how to work, while reaching out to local businesses in our communities,” said Work-Based Learning Program Coordinator Maria DeNovio, who will be the store’s main supervisor. “The networking aspect of this project is going to be huge.”

The idea to open a secondhand clothing shop is a new method to enhance the schools’ already existing Workforce Development programs.

Setting up shop

Students and staff volunteers are working hard to ready the building for its future in retail by organizing and steam-cleaning the donated clothing items, setting up floor racks and shelving, and assigning official job titles to the students who will be working in the store, along with school staff volunteers.

The shop will resemble the others that line Warren St., but the difference will be the unique learning opportunities happening inside.

Upon entry, customers will see students hanging clothes, affixing price tags to items, straightening up the store, and running the cash register. What they won’t see is that the students are conquering fears and challenges through the work they do.

“Overcoming shyness, emotional outbursts, awkwardness—talking to people and working with the public is the only way to successfully rise above these obstacles," said De Novio. "It’s a real community experience, but in a safe way.”

Select staff from the four school districts will supervise student employees as they learn how to run the business and develop their workforce readiness skills. With Program Coordinator De Novio leading the team, Transition Specialist Jackie Wild will counsel the students as they settle into their jobs, and Work Placement Coordinator Bert Gamberdella will provide on-site job coaching.

New opportunities 

While work-based learning is starting to gain momentum in school districts, workforce preparedness programs for students with special education requirements are still highly outnumbered by those designed for students in general education programs.

De Novio has confidence in the ability of the clothing shop to prove to students that they can be successful.

“I’m hoping to bring awareness that there are places like Berkshire that provide opportunities for kids with disabilities, to show them that they can have the same high school experiences as students in general education programs.”

Along with general store organization, setup, and cleaning, some jobs will be specially geared toward student interests. Students passionate about fashion and design will be in charge of dressing the mannequins and deciding on how jewelry and accessories should be displayed in the store and windows. One or a few students will be in charge of putting together a monthly newsletter to share store updates with their schools and local communities.

“Career exploration is so important for students with disabilities to discover who they are, and that there are jobs they are 100 percent capable of doing,” said De Novio. “They’re learning what they like and what they don’t like, for the sake of their own lives.”

—Sydney Lester

The thrift shop is now accepting clothing donations. To find out how to donate or for questions about the shop, please contact Maria De Novio at MDenovio@berkshirefarm.org or at (518) 781-3500 ext. 3570. 


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