About 20 years ago, the students in one Pennsylvania high school’s special education program decided they weren’t learning enough in the classroom.
Sure, there are some transition skills that can be taught within a school building: how to count change, how to cook (on a single burner), how to sweep linoleum floors.
But actually learning to be semi-independent in the real world? That’s gonna take some practice.
They came up with an idea: an apartment outside of school where they could take turns living and practicing life skills with a transition coach.
That program (called LifeLink) was so successful that it’s now a regular part of the curriculum for the Wild Dream Team, the special education program based at State College Area High School in Pennsylvania.
“The students came to the conclusion that the classroom methods we were using to teach transition skills weren’t sufficient,” explains instructor Jenny Yost-Lee. “And they wanted to create a plan that enabled them to learn the skills in the real world.”
At the LifeLink apartment, Wild Dream Team students have the opportunity to practice their skills in an environment that’s a bit riskier than the classroom no parents allowed.
It’s a huge step forward for students with learning and developmental disabilities who want to push themselves. And it’s a perfect complement to the transition curriculum they’re learning in school.
The Wild Dream Team helps students with disabilities set goals to reach whatever level of independence is right for them.
All the while, Jenny Yost-Lee and the rest of the staff provide a supportive environment to help students reach those goals.
“My mission is to make [each student] a good neighbor,” explains Jenny.
The students’ goals, of course, vary widely: join Spanish club, spend a week in the LifeLink apartment, commit to a volunteer position in the community.
Jenny doesn’t much care what the students can’t do because of their disabilities. “I know what they can’t do,” she says. “That doesn’t matter. I want to know what they can do.”
But Jenny doesn’t set goals for the students. Instead, they’re the ones deciding what they want to do next.
“It’s incredibly empowering when the students choose their own goals,” Jenny explains. “When they say, ‘I’m ready. I want to do this.'”
“This is about showing people what we can do.”
Once a student has set a goal, though, that’s when Jenny and the team step in. When a student commits to trying something new, “[they] do it unabashedly. There’s no turning back.”
Although Jenny may have a pivotal role in the success of the Wild Dream Team, she insists, “This is not about me. This is about the students and the team. It’s about showing people what we can do.”
Want to see for yourself what the students and the program can do? Take a look.
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