East Islip High School student Cody Solomon, 19, works on...

East Islip High School student Cody Solomon, 19, works on transforming a small school bus into a tank-themed vehicle at Lee's Auto Body in East Islip Tuesday. The bus will be donated to nonprofit Bravo Foxtrot United Veterans, which will use it to take veterans to and from appointments and interviews. Credit: Barry Sloan

Two adult special education students leave behind their East Islip classroom four days a week this school year to visit an auto repair shop, where they are helping transform a small school bus into a tank-themed vehicle that will serve as transportation for local veterans. 

Their project is an internship made possible by CORE — or career occupational readiness education — and is part of East Islip High School’s work-based learning program. The initiative, headed by teacher Bridget Lopiccolo, connects special education students with unpaid internships that provide valuable life skills and bolster the students' work experience, she said. It also helps lower the barrier to job placement for those with disabilities, educators and experts said. 

Three class periods are earmarked for work-based learning, when students, wearing their red work shirts, visit job sites from October through May. The program offers the adult students access to eight different sites, including Winters Center for Autism in West Babylon, Islander Laundromat in Ronkonkoma, Lee’s Auto Body & Glass in East Islip and various restaurants and retail stores. 

“All of these locations provide different skills for the students, from retail to refined skills,” Lopiccolo said. “So we try to start off with more retail, and as they establish, then we fine-tune where they’re going to work.”

Cody Solomon, 19, is one of the students who visits Lee's Auto Body & Glass in East Islip twice a week as part of his CORE program, where he has helped business partner Gary Teich create a camouflage tank out of a small school bus that was donated by Suffolk Transportation Company. Teich, who called it an "incredible experience," will donate the vehicle Thursday to nonprofit Bravo Foxtrot Veterans Group, which will use it to chauffeur veterans to appointments. 

“I love working with the car program. … [Teich] taught me how to work and how to listen,” said Solomon, adding that he hopes to eventually learn how to paint vehicles. 

CORE spans three academic years for adult special education students, where they learn essential life skills, such as cooking, hygiene and budgeting and earn work experience, which pads their resume and gives them an advantage in seeking career opportunities, Lopiccolo said.

“I think experiential learning is great for everyone, whether you have a disability or not,” said Stephen Hernandez, the director of childhood special education at Hofstra University, and a former vocational instructor. “Experiential learning, I think, is so important to get those life skills or to be able to live as independently as possible.”

Student Eric Petersen, 20, visits Islander Laundromat twice a week, where he learns how to clean and care for the laundry machinery, he said. Laundromat co-owner Steve Foray previously employed two students at his insurance office, Foray Agency Inc. in East Islip, where students learned how to manage paperwork and create digital copies of documents. 

The work is deeper than what might appear at face value, Foray said. Students learn time management, professionalism, how to work under supervision, and communication — all skills that are vital to any industry, he said. 

“I think it’s an incredible program that benefits the entire community,” Foray said. “It gives them hands-on learning experience as part of their curriculum learning throughout high school. … This gives them a competitive advantage.”

What to know:

  • East Islip High School offers a work-based learning program for adult special education students.
  • Through the program, students learn valuable life skills, such as cooking and budgeting and gain work experience. 
  • Students visit worksites four times a week where they learn communication skills, how to work under supervision and time management. 
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