Barkalow students gaining work experience at Uniquely Ours market


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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Two educators at the Clifton T. Barkalow Middle School, Stillwells Corner Road, have established a marketplace which has a goal of helping students develop professional work skills.

The Uniquely Ours marketplace opened in the middle school during the week of Feb. 22. Students who have an individual education plan (IEP) serve doughnuts and hot chocolate to staff members.

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Erin Pietsch, a special education instructor, and Denise Ortlieb-Herbert, a speech language pathologist, explained that Uniquely Ours is intended to serve as a simulated real-world experience for students, while meeting the goals established in a child’s IEP.

“This will help the students become productive, independent students,” Pietsch said.

Uniquely Ours has been set up in Pietsch’s self-contained classroom. The students follow visual aids to help them serve the staff members. The children ask the staff members if they want whipped cream and/or marshmallows in their hot chocolate and then make notes on a sticker.

To further represent a work environment, the students fill out a timesheet to identify their working hours. They receive “paychecks” which can be used to “purchase” free time during the school day.

The students have the option to immediately “cash” their paycheck or put it into a savings account as they would in a bank.

Staff members rate the service provided by the students and the students discuss the comments with Pietsch and Ortlieb-Herbert and determine how they can improve upon what they do.

The students who participate write information about themselves and the information is placed on a wall at Uniquely Ours.

“The kids are what this is all about,” Pietsch said.

Ortlieb-Herbert and Pietsch said that as the students get used to the experience, they would like to add items to the menu. They said the marketplace may expand to include students who do not have an IEP.

“This is our way to build life skills,” Ortlieb-Herbert said. “Life skills are important for everyone to have.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Pietsch and Ortlieb-Herbert would take the IEP students to workplaces outside the school. Because of the pandemic, they brought a workplace into the building.

“We made this bigger for the students because they can’t go out,” Pietsch said.

Pietsch and Ortlieb-Herbert credited their inspiration for Uniquely Ours at Barkalow to the Bulldog Beanery at Freehold Township’s C. Richard Applegate School, where elementary school pupils would serve coffee.

According to the two educators, the name Uniquely Ours and its logo of two hands resembling a tree were created through a vote among the students and discussions with the middle school’s staff members.

They said they have received support from their fellow staff members and the Barkalow administration.

“We are lucky that everyone in the school wants to get involved,” Pietsch said.

“They have a vision and I will help them support it,” Principal Thomas Smith said.

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