MOUNT VERNON — You’ve learned your ABCs and 1,2,3s and are ready to move out on your own.
Or are you? What about shopping and cooking and cleaning and doing laundry?
Due to a cooperative effort between the Knox County Educational Service Center and New Hope Industries Inc., a private company, special needs students from around the county have a dedicated space to learn those independent living skills.
Called the Transition Lab, the space is in a separate area in the NHI building, with its own entrance. Dennis Eggerton, chief executive officer of New Hope Industries, said he strongly supports the transition idea, and said he is pleased to provide a space for the students.
“Persons with disabilities have so many choices in Knox County,” he said, “and this program can help them make more informed choices as they move into adult roles in their lives.”
“This space Dennis has made available to us is great,” said recently retired KCESC superintendent Dave Southward. “It’s a win-win situation. The more we can do for these kids while they are in high school, they are that much better prepared for later in life. We have a really nice kitchen back here where they can learn how to prepare food and learn many of the basic life skills in a home-like atmosphere. Unlike in a school environment, here our kids can identify with couches and beds and things like that, and use those visual cues to help them act accordingly.”
Besides the kitchen and office areas, a living room area with couches and chairs provides an area for individuals to sit and chat, learning appropriate conversational techniques. Small dining tables, complete with tablecloths and centerpieces, allow students to practice setting a table as well as provide the chance for them to learn or refine proper table manners and to practice acceptable dining dialogue.
The lab is not just for multiply-handicapped students. Other classes from the ESC — such as the positive reinforcement education program — also use the space. The instructors use an integrated approach, combining lab work with various community experiences.
“For example,” said ESC special education consultant Connie Hatley, “the students prepare cookies and crafts for people in nursing homes, then take them to the homes to share with them, and also do other community projects. The focus is on social skills and life skills.”
The social skills aspect is very important, Hatley said, because research shows that more employees lose their jobs due to the lack of appropriate social skills than due to lack of technical work skills.