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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Daorond Lawrence

Daorond Lawrence

Ebony Gary

Ebony Gary

TC is home to 12 students in a project that helps them with school and trains them for work

Many New Yorkers took the Mets’ historic collapse this past summer pretty hard, but for Daorond Lawrence, there was added insult: his job, running food to the stands, was over.

“I like to work,” he says. “And I don’t like to see the same people on my block every day. My mom’s been telling me for years the people there aren’t my friends, and I’m starting to realize it.”

Fortunately, Lawrence, 20, has had a place to turn: the Manhattan Transition Center, one of the few remaining vocational schools in New York City. The Center has job training programs at a dozen locations throughout the City, including at TC, where teacher Oscar Marmolejo works with 12 students on reading and math skills and supervises them in positions in the TC cafeteria, the Everett Café and custodial work.

The students aren’t paid for their work, but the Center trains and certifies them for different positions, helps them find jobs when they graduate, and provides them with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) diploma. “It comes from a local school and looks like any other,” says Marmolejo. “There’s no stigma attached.”

This is Marmolejo’s first year teaching in the decade-old TC-based program, and he’s already making an impact. “When I came here, they’d had a bunch of teachers in a row and attendance wasn’t very good. I’ve been committed to work with them, and the students seem pretty happy now.”

Lawrence says he enjoys his custodial duties in the program. “There are really nice people here, respectful people. I love the time we get to read the paper. It keeps my mind going. You need that when you get older, but most people don’t understand that.”

Another student, Ebony Gary, works in Everett Café. She doesn’t like having to get up early in the morning, but says being on time gives her a sense of pride. “I like dealing with the people here. I just want to have my own money and space, and I’d like to be able to travel.” She likes dealing with adults, who offer a change of pace from life at home. “I like kids, but I’ve got little cousins at home, and I can’t get any sleep.”

As in any school, the students in the Center are on different levels. Some have learning disabilities, some had had behavior problems, but Marmolejo says that overall, the group is doing well. “The students are comfortable here; they tell him when they have problems. I talk to their families a lot, not just when they do something bad, but to congratulate them when they do something good. They appreciate that.”

TC has been very helpful, Marmolejo says, providing classroom space for instruction and integrating the students into various jobs. Still, he’d like to see more people recognize the good work the students are doing. “Once in a while, people should talk to the students, let them know that they’re doing fine. It’s not about me, it’s about them. They’re doing their best. They don’t get paid for this.

For his part, Lawrence already is using the program as a stepping stone to new opportunities. “If I’m not here, I’m always downtown applying for jobs. I have an application in with UPS, and I really hope I get it.” At the very least, he won’t have to wait for baseball season to open again, and he won’t have to hide a big secret: he’s a Red Sox fan.
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