Middle school picks up high school’s special needs program



Nearly 15 years ago, Deb Schwartz had an opportunity to create a unique program for special needs students at Brownstown Central High School.

With an empty classroom at the time, she and Principal Joe Sheffer visited three different schools to figure out what to incorporate.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

“I picked the five best things from each school, and then just kind of made my program,” Schwartz said in developing the community-based instruction program.

In one area of the classroom, there is space for one-on-one instruction.

Nearby, there are more than 30 sheltered workshop activities for students. As they complete them, they earn “money” to spend in a store she created in the classroom.

There also is an area for group activities.

Then throughout the school year, they have monthly community trips outside the classroom to practice the skills they are taught in class.

Schwartz said it’s rewarding to see the tremendous growth in the students’ social and life skills and develop a unique bond with them and their families.

“It’s a unique experience because you feel like you are a part of their family,” she said. “I just enjoy seeing all of the growth and the changes that come with growing through their teenage years and going through the program. It seems like they become more independent as the years go by. That’s my goal, I want them to be able to do as much on their own as they can.”

The program has been such a success at the high school that it was expanded into the middle school this year for the first time.

Amanda Newby is in her first year at the middle school and said it has been a great addition for her students.

“It’s amazing to work with this group of kids,” she said. “They each have their own special thing that they are working on, and I’ve seen great improvement.”

The community-based instruction program consists of social, emotional and academic learning focusing on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills and responsible decision-making.

The classroom curriculum and instruction is a part of the life skills classes. They learn about cooking, safety, survival signs, home management, hygiene and other lessons.

The community trips are the third Thursday of each month for the high school, but they aren’t on a set schedule for the middle school.

The high-schoolers visited a popcorn factory in September and Cornucopia Farm for Halloween activities in October. The next three months, they made trips to Jay C Food Store, Dairy Queen, Brownstown Public Library, a dollar store, McDonald’s, Walmart and Taco Bell.

In February, they made valentines and presented them to residents of Hoosier Christian Village. In the coming months, they will visit a candy factory, participate in the All Schools Special Track and Field Meet and go to a forestry for a picnic.

The middle-schoolers have gone to Applacres, a dollar store, a pizza restaurant and a grocery store and sold items at a craft fair. Upcoming activities include going to a post office and a zoo.

All of these activities allow the students to select and purchase items on their own and practice interpersonal skills.

When her students shopped for Christmas gifts for a family member, Newby said it was a good experience for them.

“What I liked about it is that they had the power to go out there and decide what they were going to buy on their own, make the purchase, take that up to the cash register and actually pay for something on their own. I like how that made them feel,” she said.

Newby received feedback on how that impacted one child in particular.

“One of the grandmothers sent a text message about how the child felt whenever he was able to give something that he actually went out and purchased for his family on Christmas,” she said. “He was excited and jumping up and down and giggling. That was amazing.”

The sheltered workshop activities allow the students to try different challenges and be rewarded for finishing them. That includes assembling, disassembling and sorting items.

Those skills will benefit them outside the classroom, either at home or at a job. For example, Developmental Services Inc. in Seymour offers various jobs for those with special needs.

“If they do that program after they graduate from here, then they will already be in the mindset of ‘Here’s my assignment, here’s what I have to do, here’s what I have to accomplish,’” Schwartz said.

“Plus, with the shelter workshop, what I love about it is it gets them thinking,” she said. “It exercises their brain, and anything we can do to stimulate that, that’s what I go for.”

Schwartz also has a couple of students who help the high school librarian and work at Hoosier Christian Village through Joint Services.

They also interact with other students at school by taking choir, home economics, horticulture and physical education classes.

“I try to get them out into the school environment as much as possible,” Schwartz said. “We have a unique situation here at Brownstown because not only have the teachers embraced this program, the students have, as well.”

Now that both schools have community-based instruction programs, they have done some activities together, too. The middle-schoolers went to the high school for a Halloween party in the fall, and the high-schoolers attended a Valentine’s Day celebration at the middle school in February.

Schwartz said by having a middle school program now, it won’t be completely new for the students when they reach high school.

Once students complete the community-based instruction class in high school, they receive a certificate.

Schwartz said she tries to follow up with them by making home visits or phone calls to see how life is going for them.

“They will have a fulfilling life because even though they may stay at home, they are learning how to do their own laundry, they are learning how to manage a home, they are learning how to manage their environment outside, maybe taking care of their lawn or growing their own garden,” she said. “They keep pretty busy.”

Several people from other schools have visited Schwartz’s classroom over the years to see how the program works so they can establish their own.

“I freely share what I’ve learned in my capacity,” she said. “I think the thing that has most come across through my years is if you respect a student, they will respect you. If you honor, cherish and care about them, they will honor, cherish and care about you.”

No posts to display