October 27, 2016
Life Skills, by definition, are those skills needed to participate fully in the day to day activities of life. Students with developmental disabilities and well below average cognitive ability require specific instruction in and practice with functional life skills. It is the responsibility of the home school district to provide developmentally disabled students the opportunity to learn these functional life skills.
With this in mind, the administration and staff in the Central Valley School District came to an important decision in the fall of 2015. Following a review of student need, the special education team and administration determined that it was time to enhance and expand the life skills program provided in the high school setting.
With the support of ESU 10 and the Nebraska Department of Education, Central Valley began the development of a comprehensive life skills program for students in the 7th grade through age 21. Life skills specialist, Patti Galbraith was brought onto the scene to begin a dialogue with staff. Mrs. Galbraith’s focus was to increase awareness, and help develop a stronger level of functionality within the educational program. The initial training that was provided involved the full special education team including resource teachers, administration, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, school psychologist, and special education paras.
Four Strong Walls
Mrs. Galbraith emphasized the importance of developing a strong program by encouraging participants to consider the task of building a house. Four strong walls are required to facilitate a highly functional building. Four strong walls are needed in a life skills program as well. According to Mrs. Galbraith, those walls consist of: 1. Knowing your student, 2. Identifying and teaching embedded skills, 3. Using functional life skills, and 4. Community Instruction.
Embedded skills are the “need to know” skills that students with low cognitive ability must develop in order to increase their quality of life. Embedded skills include functional academics such as money, time, measurement, writing, and reading. Motor skills is another area of embedded skills and might include handwriting, feeding, dressing, and walking. Communication skills, the third area of embedded skills, include tasks like asking for help, making choices, saying “no”, making comments, and making friends. The final area of embedded skills is social skills. Important social skills that benefit students include asking for help, following directions, greeting others, responding to criticism appropriately, and using social amenities.
Four Life Domains
Of further consideration are the four domains that describe the areas of life in which all individuals engage; community, recreation and leisure, vocational, and domestic. Finding opportunities for students to practice life skills within these four domains can prove challenging for school districts and special education staff. Through research and problem solving, Central Valley administration came to the conclusion that one way to provide practice opportunities would be to repurpose a building adjacent to the new high school building. This facility now has an interior which better reflects a life skills classroom, an apartment, and handicap accessible bathrooms. As these new environments have taken form, specialists in functional skill building, gross and fine motor development, and communication development have worked with newly appointed resource teachers to organize equipment and furniture for more purposeful teaching and learning.
Innovative experiences are being provided on a day to day basis in Central Valley. Students are involved in cooking, cleaning, service, and shared living activities. The new facility has been named the “Cougar Den”, a name coined and agreed upon by students in the life skills program. Because the “Cougar Den” is on the high school campus, students are able to remain connected to the daily high school routine and can be seen interacting with peers in the hallways, general education classrooms, and commons areas. Student activities and opportunities will be highlighted throughout the year in a newsletter called “Cougar Den Dirt”.
In addition, unified bowling, has been implemented for all interested students in the Central Valley School System. Unified bowling gives students with significant developmental disabilities the opportunity to participate in a competitive activity with general education students. The Central Valley Unified Bowling Team will be competing against other unified bowling teams in the area. Post season competition including districts and state will be an important part of this experience.
This is a very exciting time in the Central Valley School District. Significant changes have taken place in the past few years and students and staff are seeing many benefits as a result of those changes. Utilizing a team approach to problem-solving and maintaining a focus on student need have provided students with developmental disabilities and well below average cognitive ability the opportunity to meet their potential. This process demonstrates that all students can learn when provided with fitting opportunities.
-by Stacey Romick-Imig, School Psychologist