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Special Education Students Learn Life Skills in New Program

The Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Chattanooga's Orchard Knob Middle School is starting a new program to teach special education students practical skills for daily life and vocational skills that can help them find work.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/1khHb5w ) the Succeed program is supported by Leadership Chattanooga participants who are helping turn an old vocational education shop into mini work stations set up as an efficiency apartment, a grocery store, an office and a dry cleaner.

"We're trying to make things as real as possible so when they go and get jobs they'll be ready," said Kevin Lusk, a Leadership Chattanooga participant working on the project.

Kristin Roberts is a special education teacher at Orchard Knob. Her classroom of five includes students on the autism spectrum and others with limited communication skills.

Roberts said that most of her kids aren't going to college, so it would be doing them a disservice to focus solely on academics without helping them develop other skills they can use after school.

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The work skills students will learn will mostly be simple, repetitive tasks, like filing paper, making copies or folding clothes.

"Those are jobs that when developed appropriately are sort of routine. That's what our kids thrive in," Orchard Knob Principal Crystal Sorrells said. "Bagging groceries is pretty much the same every time. Making copies is pretty much the same every time. They may not be the most exciting tasks, but they have to be done."

But the program also will teach students to recognize social cues that they will need to succeed in the workplace. Roberts said that things like knowing how to call in sick without giving too much information and learning that not every person who shakes your hand is in love with you are important too.

"We can teach them any of the hard skills — how to do the work," Roberts said. "It's the soft skills that could make them lose their jobs."

Special education students are legally entitled to stay in school until the age of 21 or 22, and the Succeed program will allow some students to remain at the middle school until age 16.

A $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga is also helping fund the project, which should be completed by April. Leadership Chattanooga also is recruiting private companies to donate materials and sponsor work stations.

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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