If a main function of schools is to educate children in a way that will help them become productive members of society and their communities, IPS’ Life Skills classrooms work to put that philosophy into practice.
Designed to give special education students a community-based curriculum combining academics with embedded skill areas that reflect the basic requirements of daily life, Life Skills classes are meant to help students develop abilities they can use in everyday life.
This year, 10 elementary and nine secondary schools offer Life Skills classes. Each class has a certified teacher and at least two paraprofessionals trained to educate children with cognitive disabilities, multiple handicaps, autism, and dual-sensory impairment. Assistants have been trained to educate children with severe/profound and moderate cognitive disabilities, multiple handicaps, autism, and those who have a dual-sensory impairment.
Providing intensive support for students in a more self-contained environment, students receive guidance and instruction in three core areas:
- Community Living: Self-management, vocational, recreational/leisure and general community functioning
- Academics Aligned to Alternative Standards: Areas such as reading and writing, math, science and social studies
- Embedded Skill Areas: Includes social, communication and motor skills.
“These skills are things our students are going to need to function independently or as independently as
possible in the community,” said Cynthia Arnold, IPS senior coordinator of Unified Student Supports. “The ultimate goal is long term, thinking of each one of our students individually and how we can prepare them to make have a fulfilling life after us.”
Life Skills classrooms within IPS are considered to be community-based, so that each child has an opportunity to learn skills in the classroom and then access age-appropriate activities in the community, putting instruction into practice in an individualized way.
“Our teachers really are challenged with differentiating students,” said Amber Paz, intensive academic program coordinator for IPS’ Unified Student Supports. “They do a great job at accommodating student needs across the board.”
The programs are also designed for specific grade levels. At the high school level, for example, some students can receive on-the-job training experience through internships supported by job coaches, called employment transition specialists. Each high school has at least one employment transition specialist who works to create work opportunities in the community.
A positive effect of the program is teachers are able to get to know their students over years rather than months. The relationships they build not only strengthen the personal connection; they give them the opportunity to make a more lasting impact on the students.
“Those relationships with families with related service providers that come into the school is really strong,” Paz said. “Our teachers work very hard to make those relationships positive and collaborative with parents. Knowing they have their students for multiple years tells you they work hard to make that a positive relationship with our families.”
“It also fosters peer relationships with the overall school community,” Arnold said, “and increases disability awareness for them.
“Our programs have a big impact not just for our students in the program, but for the other peers around them,” Arnold said. “They have a better understanding of our students’ needs and acceptance for inclusion and a bigger mindset for disability awareness. That’s really just a good plus and impact to having those programs in specific buildings.”