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Herkimer BOCES Career Awareness students get ‘hands-on learning experience’ at Herkimer cemetery

Oct. 30, 2019



Four Career Awareness students posing in Oak Hill Cemetery


From left, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness students Amber Stevens, Caterina Vosburgh, John Welch and Aiden Wood pose for a photo on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer. Career Awareness students do volunteer work there on Tuesday mornings and afternoons.




HERKIMER – Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness students visited the Oak Hill Cemetery this week, but it had nothing to do with Halloween.

When Oak Hill Cemetery is open and the weather is appropriate, students in special education teacher Alana Connolly’s Career Awareness class work at the cemetery every Tuesday morning and afternoon – helping by scraping off and cleaning gravestones, picking up garbage, replacing flags and straightening up flowers.

On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 29, Herkimer BOCES special education teacher’s aide Lynne Barse was at Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer with Career Awareness students Amber Stevens, Caterina Vosburgh, John Welch and Aiden Wood.

Wood said she likes to scrape the gravestones.

“We all do,” Vosburgh said.

“It feels good to help out the community,” Welch said.

Herkimer BOCES Career Awareness students are generally between the ages of 16 and 21 – having the option to graduate at 18 or stay on until they are 21. The program is designed for students with mild special needs who will be seeking entry level community employment after graduating.

Career Awareness students receive vocational training at dozens of jobs sites in the region including stores, restaurants, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, farms, government agencies and more. The students do volunteer work at job sites on Monday through Thursday each week – with various students typically spread out to three or four locations per day.

The cemetery makes for a unique learning opportunity and helpful job site, Connolly said.

“They love going there,” Connolly said. “I think they really feel good about themselves for helping with the stones.”

In addition to helping with the cemetery’s appearance, students learn to act respectful when an event such as a burial is taking place. They also use mathematics to determine how old people were when they died, read gravestones to learn any stories they can and have discussions about Civil War soldiers buried there, how family names could be tied to professions and look for their own family names, Connolly said.

“It’s a hands-on learning experience,” she said. “History and math and reading skills are part of it too. That’s what I feel is so important.”

Oak Hill Cemetery President Mike Nasypany and Grounds Supervisor Paul Eldridge said the students’ work directly benefits the cemetery and also frees up some extra time for them to work on other aspects of maintaining the cemetery.

“We’re very appreciative for their help here,” Nasypany said, noting that he could always use additional community volunteers. “Any help we can get, we really do appreciate.”

Nasypany and Eldridge also talked with students on Tuesday, Oct. 29, about how it can be rewarding to see the results of the work they do at the cemetery. Eldridge said he thinks of keeping the cemetery looking clean as a way of putting his signature on it.

“I call that my family out there,” Eldridge said. “We’re going to do what we can.”

Nasypany said he’s happy that the volunteer work also helps students gain experience that could help them obtain careers.

“I welcome it,” he said. “It’s great.”


A student partially kneeling scraping off a gravestone


Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness student Caterina Vosburgh scrapes off a gravestone to clean it on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer.




A student raking leaves in the Oak Hill Cemetery


Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness student Amber Stevens rakes leaves on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer.




A student squatting and scraping off a gravestone


Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness student Aiden Wood scrapes off a gravestone to clean it on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer.




A student leaning over and scraping off a gravestone


Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Career Awareness student John Welch scrapes off a gravestone to clean it on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Oak Hill Cemetery on West German Street in Herkimer.