Instead of teacher-centered lessons, project-based learning is a model for classroom activity emphasizing learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, student-centered, and integrated with real world issues and practices. At Hillsides Education Center, Tony Carson, co-teacher of the vocational program, is doing just that—giving students hands-on projects in three vocational classes that will offer them survival skills to obtain and retain a job in Los Angeles County.
Some HEC students who suffer from mental illness may not be college bound, but have the potential to succeed in the real world by learning one of three vocational trades offered in the special education program. From Adirondack chairs to benches, troubled teens in trade science learn to build and construct many projects. In auto technology, students learn the basics of an engine, change the oil, and are building a working model of a V8 engine. Food service prepares students for further education or immediate employment in the hospitality and food service industry.
Students are given opportunities to further their education or explore vocational interests that they wouldn’t have in another academic setting. With the emotional disturbances that some students have, special education teachers must find different strategies to manage behaviors while teaching academic standards.
According to Carson, students learn what it means to work and solve problems with others, adding that his classroom is a model work environment that enables students to develop job survival skills. We reinforce academic concepts in practical applications, introducing students to hands-on, vocational skills. Students are also encouraged to explore careers by identifying and strengthening weaknesses and develop their interests.