Independence Begins at Cooke

Internships to Independence

It is no secret that the transition from child to young adult presents its own unique set of challenges, that each of us have faced along our life’s journey. Our students are no different! They too reach a time in their lives where they crave independence, as they seek to find their place in the world. We help students build that sense of independence through our internship program.

Cooke students begin internships at age 14 (while in high school), and continue through age 21 when they graduate from our Transitions program. Read on to learn the latest happenings in our internship program.

A Reimagined Internship Program

“Our internship program is one of the most important components for setting students up for a successful future, and we are determined to help them continue building these skills despite the pandemic.” -Jennifer Dinney, Chair of Vocational Services (Transitions) 

Resilience is a word that we often hear these days; we may think about front-line healthcare and human service workers, but just as often, we are talking about you and me—and most certainly, we think about our extraordinarily resilient students! Our students transitioned quickly into a virtual world where remote learning and school work made many feel cut off or isolated from their peers and the rest of the world. But students, their families, friends and Cooke staff wouldn’t let that isolation take over. Collectively, our community came together to reconfigure programming and reimagine instruction, collaboration and problem-solving. For high school and young adult students, that meant reimagining the student internship program.

Cooke’s two Chairs of Vocational Services (Jennifer Dinney and Dana Pelerin) play a crucial role in structuring and planning the Cooke internship program. They work with a talented and dedicated group of staff (teachers, assistant teachers, paraprofessionals and Community Inclusion Assistants) to bring vocational instruction and hands-on jobs to students. When the healthcare crisis halted in-person internships—and many businesses closed down—Jennifer and Dana got creative. They brought the internships to their students. They modeled problem-solving skills, revised instruction plans and reimagined the Cooke internship program to be virtual. The result: internships continue throughout the high school and Transitions program. While students can’t go to TJ Maxx or the Wild Bird Fund, or Moody’s, they can bring the work of retail, animal care and clerical/digital skills to the classroom and student homes virtually.

How are our students learning valuable work skills? By forging ahead with virtual or small-scale in-person internships that cultivate their ability to persevere and problem solve on the job in settings that are vastly different than they expected. That is the hallmark of resilience. Here are a few student stories:

Internship Role: This internship is tailored after a mentorship program called the Leadership Program; internship duties typically consist of tidying and restocking office pantries and other spaces.

Internship Reboot: Joshua cleans and restocks pantry spaces around the Cooke School at 1713 Madison Avenue. He rotates between the student cafeteria, the administrative office kitchen and mailroom areas. Joshua learns organizing, sequencing and problem-solving skills.



Internship Role: Restaurant Assistant interns typically bus tables, restock food items and chop and prep foods in the kitchen. These job tasks come from two culinary internships that normally would take place at Shuka Restaurant (chopping and preparing ingredients) and Luv Michael (preparing and baking granola, cleaning kitchen areas, washing dishes).

Internship Reboot: Jillian makes healthy snacks, including these Apple Sunbutter Granola Stackers, to offer to teaching staff. Some of her snacks are also sold as part of a Dollar Delivery internship where a student intern sells and delivers snacks to staff. She preps the kitchen, prepares the food, cleans up and stores the snacks. While doing this, she learns about hygiene, food safety, problem-solving and sequencing.

New Internship Settings: Cooke’s New School Facility @ 1713 Madison Avenue

Our new school facility at 1713 Madison Avenue offers many benefits, including lots of open spaces. The new school has professional kitchens, apartment labs, mailrooms, and cafeterias, to name a few. All this space allows our students to learn while following social distancing mandates. They may not be the same outside business locations our students are used to, but they offer the chance to do work in meaningful job tasks within real-world settings.

Similarly, many job tasks that would be done in an external internship host site have been moved into student homes. Through collaboration with Cooke families, internship jobs such as animal care, retail and maintenance have been reconfigured to occur in students’ homes. Cooke’s vocational staff arrange for internship supplies (including pet, cleaning and office supplies) to be sent to the student’s home. Community Inclusion Assistants (CIAs) join students virtually during zoom lessons to recreate each internship experience, teaching job tasks, problem-solving and communication skills in context. For example, students with pets at home can have an animal care internship where they engage in basic pet grooming, clean up, and stocking/organizing pet supplies and food. We are grateful to all the families who have partnered with us to reimagine these internships.

Cooke is Seeking New Internship Partners (We have the perfect intern for you!)

Our students bring a flexible, can-do attitude to their internships and are an asset in any workplace environment. To grow and evolve, Cooke’s internship program needs more business partners. That’s where you come in! Do you know a business that needs a virtual intern to conduct digital tasks: data entry, scheduling, mailroom support? We welcome the chance to partner with new businesses (nonprofits, corporate, community-based) to create more internship opportunities for our students.

We are also actively seeking business partners for our new digital skills training program, which will combine digital skills training (office productivity software) with internships. To find out more about hosting an intern or to join our digital skills internship project, please contact Michael Eaton at Get involved with our resourceful, resilient students and let them help bolster your virtual work environment through an internship program!

Supported Decision Making for Young Adults

The Supported Decision Making New York (SDMNY) Project promotes supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to preserve their independent decision-making ability. With the help of trusted supporters (who may be family, friends or experts), SDM agreements protect the rights of young adults with ID/DD on issues such as finances, educational opportunities, healthcare and personal safety.

In recent months, some Transitions students have taken part in the SDMNY program. The latest Cooke students to get involved: sisters Emma and Noa. Emma and Noa are two talented students who are actively thinking about their future—Emma wants to go to college, while Noa is pursuing art. Featured in the latest edition of SDMNY News, the sisters are planning a joint SDMA signing celebration in February.

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