One of the often overlooked aspects of education with “No child left behind” and other educational reforms is what to do with special education students.

Luckily for White House Heritage, they have a great answer with Cynthia Roberts. Roberts teaches what is called a Lifeskills class for her students working with special needs children to help them in their journey beyond high school.

In a paper co-written by California State University professor June Downing and University of Arizona professor Stephanie MacFareland, the idea of systematic instruction is the key to teaching special needs students.

Systematic instructional approach consists of a well laid out plan of teaching that involves targeting and evaluating what students can learn given meaningful opportunities to practice their skills. Such instruction involves specific procedures for identifying, prompting and reinforcing targeted behaviors, within typical age-appropriate environments.

Lifeskills classes allow for students that need teaching from a systematic approach to get a proper education, as well as the ability to join the job force during high school and beyond. The students in Lifeskills classes are students with severe disabilities that need an education based on life experiences including working at jobs, adult recreational activities, and independent living.

Even more than being able to learn skills that will be used as an adult, the biggest positive of the Lifeskills program is the support and acceptance from fellow students, and the community at large.

“The students have been openly accepted by the faculty and the rest of the student population with open arms and they are Patriots through and through,” Roberts said. “By having such acceptance within the school from others, we are able to work in the bookstore, sort mail in the office, stock concessions for sporting events, as well as partner with Kroger and Pizza Hut in the community.”

“We work with a group of boys and girls ranging from juniors to 22 years old,” Roberts said. “We take them to real world places such as Kroger and Pizza Hut and allow them to develop work skills doing anything from cleaning tables to putting groceries in their correct position, to even making sauces and pasta.”

Roberts is able to use a job simulator in her classroom starting the children with needs as early as seventh grade to learn job skills.

“We use our job simulator here in our classroom to help the children learn skills needed for the future,” Roberts said. “We have a full kitchen, academic setting and several other tools to help these students in all aspects of their lives.”

According to Heritage principal Mary Jo Holmes, Robert’s tireless effort with the children in her classes is a great way for the students to learn about independent living and life beyond school.

“Our Lifeskills class, individuals with severe disabilities, visits the Springfield YMCA on Mondays and Fridays as a way to learn about adult recreational activities,” Holmes said. “They are also working at Pizza Hut and Krogers to learn valuable work skills needed for independent living and to be positive contributors to society.”

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