After retiring as a superintendent of a state school district, Dr. Ed Placke got a call from Green Chimneys. At first Ed, who has over 35 years of experience in education, hesitated to take the call, but after 15 seconds of visiting the 160-acre farm, he knew it was the place for him. Green Chimneys educates students with disabilities from ages 5 to 21. The school’s goal is to guide their students across the bridge to adulthood successfully. Throughout this podcast consider how important the lessons at Green Chimneys are for not only the children learning them, but also how important they can be in all careers and how they could be incorporated into everyone’s lives.
Green Chimneys is not your typical “boarding school”. They have over 100 boarders at the school and 150 students who commute. Their goal is to help provide coping skills and strategies so that within 1-2 years the students can move back home and re-enter their public school systems. One of the driving factors for Ed’s work and all of Green Chimneys’ staff is that the employment rate for adults with disabilities is less than 30%, and with the addition of behavioral or psychiatric issues, the employment rate drops down to single digits. Through research with schools, companies and agencies, Green Chimneys found that the primary reason people lose their jobs is that they lack soft skills. On campus, Green Chimneys makes sure to teach their students how to work with their peers, important communication skills and how to be active listeners.
Utilizing standard classroom learning and working to care for the over 300 animals on the farm, students learn academic, social, emotional and many more necessary skills to help them succeed. Each student who comes to Green Chimneys represents the spectrum of humanity. Youngsters come with a variety of different skills and the staff’s focus is to capitalize on each child’s strengths and to extinguish their weaker skills. Each student also has their own individualized education plan with particular goals and outcomes regarding more than just their academic experience. A team of staffers reviews the students’ progress and goals each quarter to make sure that Green Chimneys continues to guide the children on the path to success.
Early in his career as an administrator, Ed thought that he needed to bring the energy and focus to the job in order to lead. However, over time Ed realized that was not a way to create a sustainable team environment. Now, Ed tries to cultivate each team members’ confidence and independence by developing an organization where accountability, communication and high energy for each member is key. Although one of his challenges is still learning how to balance when to let his staff take control of a situation and when he needs to step in and make decisions, he remains extremely passionate about his work at Green Chimneys. Ed spends 10-15 hours a day working, but it helps that he also lives on campus.
As a former special education teacher, Dr. Ed Placke knows that his job it to help each of his students. One of Ed’s greatest joys is when they release a bird of prey when a student completes their educational program at Green Chimneys. Ed has learned throughout his career that the skills these students bring to the table far outweigh any needs they may have. He is motivated every day to work with the students to help each child develop across the bridge to adulthood and have a successful life, one soul at a time.
Learn more about the mission of Green Chimneys https://www.greenchimneys.org/.