Every teacher strives to prepare students for a productive future. For students with special needs, that future can look atypical. Fortunately, in New York City’s public education system, Anne Cortissoz is an atypical teacher.
Recognizing few opportunities for vocational education, especially for students with disabilities, Anne used a Fund for Teachers grant to attend the International Conference on Inclusion and Special Education in Zurich. Afterwards, she researched the Swiss Vocational Education and Training system and observed students in workplace environments. She heard success stories from world-renowned experts and witnessed students’ with multiple intelligences flourishing in post-secondary career options.
“In American society, people are justifiably sensitive to relegating students with disabilities to the vocational education track,” said Anne. “However, in Switzerland I researched apprenticeships and industries that took pride in their inclusion of students like mine. That country’s sustained high employment rate made me question whether families and students might choose that track if it were offered or encouraged.”
Back in the Bronx, Anne worked with guidance counselors to introduce vocational planning in ninth grade and sought out student internship opportunities with community mentors. Her math classes pivoted to provide project-based problem solving with relevant applications in fields such as construction, plumbing and graphic design.
Drawing on a model from Switzerland, Anne now teaches a “Virtual Enterprise” track that leads to technical certifications and diploma credentials. Students design business plans and develop products with the help of local businesses, which facilitate job shadowing, mock interviews and resume writing workshops.
“Greater real-world math applications through authentic learning opportunities now promote career readiness in my classes,” said Anne. “And, for the first time this year, students are participating in paid internships, for which they develop job descriptions and maintain time sheets. It’s been an extraordinary experience for them and a dream come true for me to see them ultimately head into the workforce.”
Formerly a part of the telecommunications industry, Anne is now certified in both Mathematics and Special Education and utilizes a range of successful instructional, literacy and technology strategies, “real world” applications and differentiation techniques to foster critical thinking, higher order problem solving skills, and student growth.