2013-09-12 / News

Recent high-school grad returns from volunteer trip to England

By Ken Shane

Emilio Kurz is a 20-year-old Jamestown resident who is still trying to find his way in the world. Recently his journey took him to England, where he spent a year volunteering at a school for students with special needs.

Kurz grew up in Massachusetts before moving to Jamestown in time to attend Lawn School. He graduated from North Kingstown High in 2012, but opted to take a “gap year” before deciding on a college and career.

“I knew I wanted to take time off before college to really figure out what I am going to do with my life,” Kurz said.

Kurz’s mother learned about a place called Ruskin Mill College that is located in the Cotswolds area of England. The college is run by Ruskin Mill Trust, a 25-yearold charity that provides education, care, training, advice and homes for people with complex learning and behavioral difficulties.

After learning of the school, Kurz began the process of becoming a volunteer at Ruskin Mill College in Gloucestershire. The school provides practical skills and therapeutic education to students between the ages of 16 and 25 who have learning difficulties.

The first step in the process was to contact the volunteer manager and fill out a number of forms, Kurz said. A yearlong visa was also required, and an interview was conducted where Kurz laid out why he was qualified to help.

“What’s really special about the school is that it only accepts kids that really need help,” he said. “They don’t learn through textbooks.

It’s all hands-on.”

Kurz said the farm setting provides students with the opportunity and time to care for animals, tend to gardens, and connect with Mother Nature. Traditional subjects like math and language are available as well, but they’re generally taught as a way to facilitate their work on the farm.

“Let’s say there are animals escaping,” Kurz said. “You need to build a new gate. In order to build a new gate, you need to know measurements and you need to know how to use tools.”

The three-year school offers a variety of certificates to students. For example, if a student wanted to become certified to operate a farm vehicle such as a tractor, the school has teachers who are licensed to train them. That teacher would then prepare them for the certification test. The same level of training is available in areas like animal care, gardening and woodworking. Following graduation, the school helps to place students in jobs.

One specific project involves the student planting a tree and caring for it as it grows. Since there is not enough time for the tree to mature in the three years of school, the student will cut down a mature tree that was planted by an earlier student and fashion something from the wood, perhaps a stool, spoon or bowl.

Future students will have the same opportunity when the trees that today’s students planted are mature.

“It’s watching the whole process,” Kurz said, “from start to finish.”

On a typical day at Ruskin Mill, Kurz might spend time working with the farm’s animals, including horses and sheep. He would also work in the garden, where vegetables are grown and harvested to supply the school’s kitchen. He would take some time in the smokehouse, where local fish are brought for processing and smoking. The smoked fish is sold to people in the local community.

While most of the students at Ruskin Mill are local, there are students who come from as far away as London and Dublin. Students and volunteers from outside the immediate area are housed with host families. Kurz stayed with a family who lived just a short walk from the school.

While Kurz would be happy to volunteer at a similar school closer to home, he was happy to travel overseas. He had never been to England before. Being away from home and his friends put him in a world that was new to him, he said, and it gave him the opportunity to learn about a new place and culture.

Kurz said he is outgoing by nature, so meeting new people and making new friends was not an issue for him.

“The first couple of days getting adjusted was quite shocking because of the change in time zones,” Kurz said. “After that it was smooth sailing. I got to meet lots of friends and learn lots of skills that I can continue now that I’m back. I’m a people person. I get along with everyone.”

Kurz still isn’t sure about his plans for the future. However, he knows for sure he wants to work outdoors with his hands. While he is considering his next move, he is working locally as a handyman using the lessons he learned overseas.

Kurz said it’s advantageous for students with special needs to live in a small community like Ruskin Mill, where everyone knows each other and lends a hand.

“It’s really a way to move forward,” he said.

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