ACHS Cafeteria Volunteer Shows How ACPS Embodies Inclusion
The division’s spirit of inclusion is in full view as Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) has embraced special needs volunteer Luke Ferris, who serves as an assistant to anyone needing help in the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) cafeteria.
“ACPS has made room for Luke to be able to find a welcoming community in which he can add value as part of the mission of the school system, and his presence allows for the school population to see the value of autistic individuals,” Luke’s father, John Ferris, said.
Luke graduated from McLean High School and then received job skills training at the Davis Center, a Fairfax County Public Schools program aligned with Marshall High School. “We were so fortunate to have Jason Tepper, ACPS’ executive chef, put us in contact with Family and Community Engagement Center Volunteer Specialist Angela Houghton,” Ferris explained.
Ferris says because of Luke’s autism, his son has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Often it is these differences that create strength. He also explains that it can be difficult for autistic individuals whose social skills do not match society’s norms to perform and engage successfully with co-workers, but ACHS cafeteria staff give Luke the patience and understanding that he needs.
Office of School Nutrition Services (SNS) Assistant Director Gina Green added, “We have been fortunate to provide Luke the opportunity to be a part of a workspace that makes him feel comfortable and productive in the work that he performs with us. Every day he says that he is here to help and he is glad to help. He is also very good at repetitive tasks.” Green says Luke loves to be around the team and takes pleasure in helping prepare food for students. The SNS staff at the high school welcome him with compassionate, patient and loving arms.
When Luke first came to ACHS as a volunteer, Best Buddies, a job training and coaching program, assisted Luke in learning cafeteria tasks. Houghton says as an ACPS professional and someone who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorder, “volunteering gives a young adult with autism or a learning disability a place to start that can help them build their abilities and confidence, which can eventually lead to an increase in their interest and paid work.”
“Our mission at ACPS, including SNS, is to be inclusive in our program. We pride ourselves on providing opportunities to diverse populations in an equitable manner,” said Green.
“Our world does not always find opportunities for special needs individuals to thrive,” Ferris added. “ACPS has provided Luke with a sense of connection and inclusion that makes him feel a valued part of the school.”
- Family and Community Engagement Center
- Office of School Nutrition Services