HHS freshman Austin Durbin demonstrates cleanup chores at the end of the school day in the new “experience classroom” for students with significant support needs. Durbin is pictured loading the dishwasher as one of his assigned chores for the day. — Johnson Publications
New classroom, new experiences added for special-needs students
A specialized classroom for students with significant support needs is new this school year to Holyoke JR/SR High School. Located in the northwest corner of the junior high, the “experience classroom” is designed to address the unique learning needs of students with disabilities who have the most significant support needs.
Currently, three students participate in the life skills class in the experience classroom. They are seventh-grader Abraham Diaz and freshmen Austin Durbin and Jareth Gardea. High-needs special education teacher Nancy Miles has been working with Diaz since preschool and Durbin and Gardea since third grade.
Miles said she realized a few years ago that these students were going to need a more specialized individual education plan in a self-contained classroom as they moved into junior/senior high school. That’s when she approached the school district about the need for an experience classroom.
“The goal of the life skills class is to help students gain some sort of independence to some degree,” said Miles. The experience classroom focuses on teaching everyday skills that students cannot get in a general education or special education classroom, she added.
The curriculum includes personal/social skills, independent life skills such as cooking and clothing care, work competencies and functional academics. These skills are essential for students with significant support needs to learn because they provide the basis for and facilitate transition from school to life in the real world. Miles pointed out that the students need constant focus and practice on these skills in order to gain some independence later.
The class is designed for students in grades 7-12; however, there is also a transition program for 18-21-year-old participants. Miles said that during this time, the students focus on some sort of work experience and training on skills in that specific job with continued practice to learn and retain the skills.
The students each have one-on-one aides, Tracey Cordova, Leticia Penzing and Yazmin Diaz, who have worked with the students for the past three years. Miles noted that consistency is good for the students and teachers. It helps the students progress.
The students are in the life skills classroom most of the day, although they do have two periods of elective classes with kids their age, including adaptive physical education with Scott Dille, said Miles. Each student has an individualized education program with time split between academic and life skills goals.
The experience classroom was made possible by the Building Excellent Schools Today grant through the Colorado Department of Education. The school district submitted a request for both the experience classroom and the roof project.
The BEST grant requires a local contribution in the form of matching funds based on a number of criteria. Fifty-five percent of the total project was funded by the grant, and 45 percent was paid by the district.
Miles said she is very pleased with the support from the administration and their help putting the classroom in place. The program is working to fulfill its mission to support the unique needs of students and provide a positive environment, which prepares students to live, work and enjoy life in their community.