By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Superintendent Amber Bock admits that the Sugar Shack candy store has many community members confused.
But rather than let that slow her down, she and a team of administrators have their eyes on the future, drawing up plans to grow what was started as a learning lab for the town’s special education program into a hub for all Westborough High School (WHS) students looking to transition to adult life.
“The idea is that, just as the schools are a part of the community, this place needs to be flexible to serve a whole range of interesting needs,” Bock said. “We’re so excited for all the ways we’re going to do that.”
A one year old offshoot of the special education life skills program, the BORO, the Sugar Shack primarily trains students with special needs in the skills necessary to land jobs after high school. In order for that hands on educational strategy to work, however, Bock and her team emphasize the need for the store to be a fully sufficient small business.
They received a major boost in making that happen with the recent outreach of the Corridor Nine/495 Regional Chamber of Commerce, who asked Sugar Shack organizers to host a ceremonial ribbon cutting to celebrate their one year anniversary.
“To have the Corridor 9 businesses reach out to us, to see us as a viable business, is huge because people really are still trying to figure us out,” Bock said. “The official ribbon cutting for me means we are an official business in the community.”
Now with that business identity getting ever steadier by the day, Bock and her colleagues are excited for the expansion they’ve been planning for months.
Among other things, they want to reach beyond the special needs population in their schools, weaving the Sugar Shack into a variety of curriculums. They want business students to review their accounting books as case studies in trend identification. They want digital art students to learn real life applications for their skills by developing marketing materials for the Sugar Shack website and social media accounts. And Bock even wants to add an independent study option for students to come into the Sugar Shack and learn the nuts and bolts of accounting by working on the candy store books themselves.
“The roots of the program are fundamentally about providing great education for all students in their home community,” Bock said. “Then the branches of that become all the different ways we do that.”
One year after they opened under the framework of taking special needs life skills education out of the classroom and into the real world, the Westborough Public Schools are excited about what they have growing on their town’s Main Street.
Excited to continue that growth, but wary about growing too fast and having their program collapse under its own weight, Bock and her team are being strategic about their plans. They want this to work.
“The ideas are endless,” she said. “What’s important is to pull the good ones and then to stage out when we do them.”