BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — The school year is wrapping up at Niskayuna High School, and that means it’s testing season: time to break out the fresh No. 2’s.
But for those who forget, there’s no need to panic. The school store, run by students in the Life Skills program at the high school, is well-stocked.
“How many pencils can I get for two dollars?” a student asks while traveling between classes. He leans over a table at the high school’s busy crossroads, covered with a red tablecloth and an assortment of school and office supplies. There are writing instruments, folders, Niskayuna-branded bags and coffee mugs and even the odd whoopee cushion for those pranksters whose finals have ended.
Seniors Kenzie O’Brien and David Laplant sit proudly behind the store they helped stock and now open in the school’s busiest hallway intersection about twice a month.
“During lunch we do it to help out,” O’Brien said.
The pair are just two of 13 students in the Life Skills program, who spend much of their school day at Schenectady County Community College or working around town, taking both volunteer positions at the high school, one of the elementary schools, Ingersoll Place, the Niskayuna Co-Op and many other local businesses.
Usually, students in the Life Skills program work inside Niskayuna High School during freshman and sophomore years, helping out in the cafeteria, library, print shop or greenhouse. They learn work skills like relating to co-workers and managers, following directions, and interacting with customers.
But juniors and seniors in the program often work outside the building. For them, the school store offers an important opportunity to connect with classmates on different tracks.
Jules Paul, a teaching assistant who was helping with the school store on a recent afternoon, said plenty of Niskayuna High School students come down to visit the store on all their free periods when it’s open, just to chat or help out.
“You see some friendships that are gained,” he said, watching O’Brien break into a wide grin as she greeted repeat customers that have become friends over time.
Partnerships form between the students who work at the table, too. O’Brien and Laplant have worked out a system that plays to both their strengths: She greets customers and looks up prices, and he handles the money.
In addition to having a fun place to work, Paul said the students get invaluable practical experience as they help their peers prepare for projects and tests.
Figuring out a budget is no small task, and keeping track of the store helps make personal finance accessible.
John Leclerc coordinates the vocational program at the high school. Since helping students start their store at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, he said he’s seen it become a useful tool for students on both sides of that warrior red tablecloth.
“Crossroads is like the hub of the high school,” he said.
The school store represents a growth trend in the Life Skills program since Leclerc took over six years ago. The program’s partnership with the community college started during the previous school year, and Leclerc hopes to expand the new store’s offerings by early next year.
He said an expanded selection of Niskayuna apparel could become part of the inventory, which would be a viable way for the program to make a profit, in turn creating more learning opportunities.
From pencils to paychecks, Leclerc takes the long view of the possibilities the school store and other Life Skills programs can create for students who participate.
Former students of the program work at the community college, Proctor’s, the Niskayuna Co-Op, ShopRite, and other local businesses in both paid and unpaid positions.
Leclerc smiles as he recalls running into former students around town, happily participating in community life.
“We’ve had some really good success stories,” he said.