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Monarch School Spreads its Wings
Published Wednesday, November 15, 2017

For more than 45 years, the Monarch School of New England has been helping students with autism, physical disabilities, traumatic brain injury, developmental disabilities, rare genetic disorders, and other disorders to thrive. And this past academic year, the Rochester school underwent its own transformation.

The Monarch School, which serves students from ages 5 to 21 who have not succeeded in public schools, was housed in a 9,700-square-foot building. Just this summer, the school opened the doors of a new 11,810-square-foot, $3.2 million high school and vocational center in Rochester. While elementary students will continue to attend classes in the original building, older students have a facility equipped to prepare them for life after school.

The new facility, built by Jewett Construction Company in Raymond and designed by Portsmouth-based DeStefano Architects, includes a full culinary kitchen to teach students life skills and to train those who want to pursue jobs in the hospitality industry; a computer lab to teach students research and IT skills as well as office and filing work; a woodworking facility; and an art and music program with its own dedicated classroom.

There are 62 students between the school’s two sites, including 32 at the new high school and vocational school, with 108 staff members. That includes eight nurses to provide students with needed therapies.

“It’s academics first,” says Diane Bessey, executive director of The Monarch School, stressing that the goal is to reintegrate students back into the public school system of their home communities. The Monarch school works with more than 26 school districts in NH and southern Maine, helping districts to assess and meet students’ needs and accepting students to its school if a district cannot meet those needs.

“We work on behavior and on stabilizing them,” says Bessey, adding some are not reintegrated and instead  receive vocational training to become independent. Isaac Hutchinson, the school-to-work coordinator at the Monarch School, places about 16 students in jobs throughout a typical school year and helps recruit area businesses to serve as internship sites.

“He explains to businesses our expectations,” Bessey says. “We don’t want charity work.” Instead, the school works with employers to see if there are aspects of work that bog them down but don’t require professional skills. “Once a student gets in and proves themselves, the job grows,” Bessey says.

Students have been placed in internships at the Rochester Police Department, TJ Maxx, Studley’s Flower Garden in Rochester, Turbocam in Barrington and Holy Rosary Credit Union in Rochester, among others. Jobs range from janitorial services to filing and other office jobs.

“Our goal is to place a student in a job they would like to do,” Bessey says. The job training begins at the school with learning basic skills. Students then begin their jobs with one-hour shifts that become longer shifts as their skills progress.

While students are in school, they work as unpaid interns at area businesses. Six months before graduation, the Monarch School places them in jobs in their own community for which students will be paid once they graduate. “Our students have a place in society,” Bessey says. “They have skills they can share.”

The new high school and vocational center, which broke ground in July 2016, opened in July 2017 for the summer session. A grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 7. The NH Community Development Finance Authority in Concord awarded $500,000 in tax credits to the Monarch School to help fund the new building project.

For more information, visit monarchschoolne.org.

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