Many of the students and participants we work with at The Community School have special areas of interests. These areas of interests can be very specific (cereal box artwork from the 1980s or World War II weaponry) and enduring–often a personal focus for many years. While some may view special interest areas as a hindrance or obstacle to learning new skills, TCS views these interests as opportunities to expand and bridge our students to the world around them. We find ways to incorporate personal interests into academic classes and we dedicate time each week for students to engage around topics they find interesting. We find interactions with participants change when the topic of the conversation or activity is in their special interest area. A disengaged student suddenly rejoins the group with the chance to discuss and share information about a certain topic. A student perseveres through problems that would typically result in a meltdown when they are working with something that is personally interesting and motivating. The affinities program at TCS ensures that every student and participant
has time in their weekly schedule to deeply explore and develop skills related to their interests and personal talents. As our population looks to transition from school into adulthood, TCS is dedicated to helping them find meaningful and fulfilling roles in their community. Often, personal areas of interest can be the key to bridging our students to their community.
This semester a student and I have been exploring one of his areas of interests, Paleontology. We have reached out to community resources in an effort to connect him with other professionals in this area and begin to develop job training skills and opportunities so he may shift his interests into a career. In this class he has developed a portfolio of his paleo-art, created a resume, and joined a regional professional organization. With these tools in place, we began to reach out to the community and the response has been fantastic! This student is now working with the Alliance Theatre as an artistic consultant. He works with the creative director brainstorming ideas and drawing designs for dinosaur puppets and props for a dinosaur-themed performance. He has also been accepted as a 2016-2017 Fernbank F.U.N intern. Through this internship, he’ll have the opportunity to do something he enjoys: share information about biology, archaeology, and paleontology with museum visitors of all ages. Of the application and interview process, his parent said:
The interviewers were very warm, and interacted well with [my son]. They had already thought through some ways that they could use his talents and possibly even display some of his work. They said that [my son’s] love of art (paleo-art in particular) had given them the idea of incorporating art into their regular education programs and learning carts. [My son] was eager to share his portfolio, and they were thoroughly impressed! [My son] said working at a natural history museum was like a dream come true!