Class teaches life skills to students

Published 9:23 am Friday, October 7, 2011

Students in the Transitions Program include back row from left Derek Flesche, Mark Born, Sondra Ness, Brenden Long, Kristine Lenze, Kaylee Parmenter and Jesse Bergland. In the front from left are Joey Haines, Shavonnah Coleman and Jon Price. -- Submitted photo

A new program in the Albert Lea School District is working to help students with disabilities learn life skills before graduating high school.

Lori Nelson, teacher and case manager, said she’s wanted to see the Transitions Program in place for a few years, but it wasn’t possible with funding shifts. Legally, students with disabilities can graduate by completing an individual education plan or by reaching the age of 21 if they can’t complete their plan. Nelson said often students don’t want to stay at the high school after turning 18.

“We need to keep these kids longer,” Nelson said.

The program is for students who have completed 12th grade but still need to complete their education plan. Having class at the Riverland Community College campus in Albert Lea helps them feel they’ve advanced from high school.

Nelson and Julie Ulve, a case facilitator, observed a similar program in Austin and have modeled Albert Lea’s program after what they learned. Students have individual programming each morning, meet for lunch at Riverland and then have class together.

“The program makes them more successful,” Nelson said.

Some of the students go to work at Cedar Valley Services like Joey Haines, 19. Haines attended high school at Glenville-Emmons and transferred to Albert Lea to continue with the Transitions Program. He said he enjoys coming to class.

“I learned about job applications,” Haines said.

Kristine Lenze, 20, also works for Cedar Valley Services and works in the cafeteria at Riverland. She said she does chores like cleaning, dishes, sweeping, mopping and making some foods like cookies.

Brenden Long, 19, is another student in the program. He said he’s faster-paced than some with the academic learning but likes socializing with others who have disabilities. He’s said he’s benefited most from learning “how to get a job and keep it.”

Shavonnah Coleman, 18, also said she benefits from only some of the skills in the class, like going to job fairs and learning about employment. Sondra Ness, 20, said she learns a lot in the class like how to use maps and fill out job applications.

“These students have a wide range of abilities,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the program is still in its early stages. Because the students are so varied academically, some aren’t challenged by some of the programming. The academically higher-functioning students can still benefit from parts of the program that teach social skills and work experience.

“It’s kind of a work in progress,” Nelson said.

There are five main areas of focus for the students that include home living, community participation, recreation and leisure, post secondary and employment. Nelson compares the programming to the “On Your Own” elective class at the high school that regular education students benefit from.

On Thursday students were benefiting from the Tribune’s Newspapers in Education program that’s funded through donations. Nelson said she was planning a lesson on how to read the newspaper and where to find certain types of information in it. She hopes that by having newspapers in the class each day that students will become accustomed to reading it on their own.

“We’ve also talked about relationships and how to make friends,” Nelson said.

For now the students will continue to have individualized morning plans and meet for class time in the afternoons. Nelson predicts the program will continue to have around 10 students and hopes that education will be tailored more closely to each student’s needs.