HANDS ON: Redesigned Special Education Program

The goal after graduation is to go onto college or get a job. A redesigned program at one high school is making sure every student gets that chance, no matter their abilities.

You could call Sami Strain a super senior. She says, “That’s what Ms. McKibben would say.”

She already graduated but remains a part of Urbandale High School’s Severe and Profound Special Education class. Teacher Julie McKibben says, “This is a classroom for students who need more supported learning that are here to learn more functional life skills.”

McKibben started redesigning the classroom three years ago. The focus is teaching school skills that translate into the real world. She says, “In this program we’re really just thinking outside of the box, evolved those academics into something where our kids can leave here when they turn 21 or whatever their parents agree to, and have skills in the community.”

Eight students are in the program. They work with nine teaching associates on their individual education plans. Each student has an office where they work on their goals. They practice life skills in various labs, like making a bed and cooking food. Students also learn job skills like filing and typing. Strain says, “I’m doing my job application.”

And, there is the grocery store where students can shop for pretend food, bread, produce and other items. They use their pretend debit cards to check out. They also work in the store, which means they have to “clock in” for each shift. McKibben says, “They actually stock shelves, front shelves and really learn that skill to get them a job in the community.”

The store also teaches the students about money and how to pay with things like a debit card. McKibben says, “I think Special Ed is really starting to evolve, and the thought process behind how to educate students with intellectual disabilities is changing.”

The ultimate goal is for students like Strain to get hired in a job they enjoy. Sami says she would like to work at a grocery store. She says, “Probably do the sacks or something. Put stuff in sacks. It’s going to be awesome.”

Most of the classroom items are donated, so the redesigned program didn’t really cost more money. The Northwest Rotary Club is honoring McKibben with a Hero in Education award for her work on the program.

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