Just like Christmas

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Students get new class at SRHS

By Tom Wilmoth

    For Laura Kohout and Ana Watkins, the Wednesday before school started seemed a bit like Christmas. They knew they were getting something special, they just didn’t know quite what.

    Then they walked into their new classroom.
    “It’s like Christmas morning and you go downstairs to open your gifts,” stated Kohout, who along with Watkins teaches a special education class at Staunton River High School. “I’m just excited to see the kids when they come in and see everything in place.”
    What those students found when they came in last Monday was a fully-functioning room designed to be like an apartment. The teachers present a curriculum to their students based on life skills and community-based instruction. They take the core subject areas such as math, English and science and apply skills in that area to real-life situations.
    Prior to this year, they had two classrooms, but there wasn’t any space devoted to practical living skills. “Now we have that,” noted Watkins as she looked around the room. That class now includes brand new appliances, a bathroom and a living area, furnished with furniture donated by Grand Home Furnishings.
    “We are actually able to give our students hands-on experience, real life situations,” she said of the apartment-like environment.
    The goal will be to help them learn the skills they’ll need to live on their own or in assisted-living situations.
    Students in the class range in age from 15 to 22 and they have a range of differences including autism, intellectual deficiencies, Angelmen’s Syndrome, Downs Syndrome and poor mobility. Thirteen students are enrolled in the program.
    Through each lesson, the teachers strive to help the students obtain the skills they will need in everyday life to allow them to live as independently as possible.
    Materials in the apartment classroom space include a stove, washer/dryer, refrigerator, couch, two love seats, rugs, kitchen accessories, lamps and wall decorations. Lessons the students will be learning range from how to take care of an apartment to kitchen safety, cooking safely to understanding what foods need to be refrigerated.
    “When we are doing lessons on care of an apartment or cooking lessons, the students will obtain more information if it is taught in that situation that looks and feels like the real life situation,” the teachers stated. That will allow the students to better retain the lesson being taught and relate it to actual situations “they will encounter outside of school with greater success.”
    Watkins expected a lot of questions about the new class space as the students returned to school last week.
    The teachers learned they would get a new classroom late last school year and work began on it in July. The school system’s maintenance department worked hard to get it ready.
    Then on Wednesday, the unveiling was held. The teachers were allowed in after the furniture was put in place.
    School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch said he appreciated the partnership with Grand Home Furnishings. “That’s something we’ve said we want to do more of,” he said.
    For Grand Home Furnishings’ 100th anniversary, employees from the company’s stores have been identifying organizations in need in their communities. The staff has been making donations and completing service projects as part of the company’s efforts to offer 100 “grand gestures” to thank its neighbors.
    Kohout and Watkins visited Grand Home Furnishings Outlet – Westlake and met assistant manager Jennifer Billings, who was thrilled to support the project.
    “It’s a little different from the family and child organizations Grand has been supporting with gestures,” Billings explained, adding that the outlet store donated furniture to the Franklin County Family Resource Center in June. “When we walked through the store to look at the furniture, they were worried about the expense. I said, ‘Look, this is a gift. Let’s pick out what you need and we’ll worry about the money."        “This project is going to help teach those children what tools they need,” Billings said. “For Ana and Laura to come to us with this awesome idea is great. We’re as excited as they are to see the students in this real-life setting.”
    “I’ve been on pins and needles all summer ready to see the classroom,” said Watkins. “This program is unique to Bedford County. Not only is it the first apartment setting in a school in our area, it’s going to be a surprise to the students.”