In a classroom at Waupaca High School, five students are learning how to apply independent living, social and employment skills there and throughout the community.
Their classroom looks like an apartment. It has a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom.
The students vacuum, prepare meals, wash dishes, operate a cafe and more.
“Our goal is to get these guys out in the community, working and feeling comfortable as a member of society,” said Mary Jo Barden, who is the school’s LIVE educator/transition coordinator.
“LIVE” is an acronym for Lifelong Independent Vocational Education.
The program is for 18 to 21 year olds who are intellectually disabled, she said.
“We started it in the fall. It’s brand new,” Barden said. “Students go four years academically (at the high school) and then come into the LIVE program.”
The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act mandates school districts to provide transition services for students with disabilities to improve their post-school outcomes, said Maureen Markon, the district’s special education director.
Some student with disabilities, who have completed academic requirements for graduation, remain in high school until they reach 21 years of age to work on transition goals, she said.
The Waupaca School District developed a Community-Based Transition Options program, the LIVE program, which targets students with significant disabilities, Markon said.
The emphasis of the program is for students to learn skills so they may become responsible and contributing citizens, she said.
They learn how to maintain an apartment, and they learn and apply leisure time activity skills within the apartment and throughout the community, Markon said.
“It is important for these students to become familiar with their community and how to access resources. Students also refine their employment skills, then apply these skills through community employment opportunities,” Markon said. “The businesses throughout Waupaca have generously supported this program. They have provided opportunities for the students to share their talents and skills. We look forward to tapping into more businesses throughout Waupaca within the near future.”
The goals of Waupaca High School’s LIVE program are academic achievement, citizenship and responsibility.
“This was my original classroom,” Barden said of the room, which over the course of first semester, went from looking like a traditional classroom to an apartment.
Before the transformation took place, Barden met with Markon and District Administrator David Poeschl to discuss the idea.
Then she visited Hansen’s Furniture, Appliance and Flooring Center to talk to owners Tim and Mary Angsten about the concept.
“They were more than willing to donate furniture, pictures, accessories, as well as to consult on colors,” Barden said as she expressed her appreciation for the donation.
“We couldn’t have done the apartment without them, and we have gotten many donations from LIVE staff and community members,” she said.
Tim Angsten said their donation is the result of their desire to be part of LIVE, a program they believe is important.
“We have the apartment and an education center. We start in the education center,” Barden said.
When the students arrive on Mondays, they punch in on a computer.
Some students head to jobs in the community.
Carl Anderson goes to Spine and Sport Physical Therapy of Waupaca, where he cleans bathrooms, wipes down machines and changes sheets and pillowcases in between patients.
Dennis Gauerke said he does “all kinds of stuff” at Goodwill, including sorting.
Craig Staszak worked at Goodwill last year.
Allen Adams and Matt Pliska operate LIVE Cafe.
WHS staff members order coffee drinks online.
“They (Adams and Pliska) print it out, make it and deliver it,” Barden said.
She said a grant from Shopko covers the cost of the green polo shirts the students wear, transportation to their jobs and the pay they receive for working.
In the education center, Barden works on money skills with the students. There are discussions about how to talk to a boss and be responsible at work.
The students also learn about what is happening in the community.
In the apartment, a student is reponsible each week for choosing a recipe, making a grocery list and then preparing a meal for the entire class.
Another student focuses on taking care of the apartment, which includes cleaning and laundry.
The skills they work on often translate to their jobs in the community.
“We really try to run something as real life as we can,” Barden said. “When they’re cooking, they wear gloves and hair nets. When the boys do the cafe, they wear chef hats.”
The students in the LIVE program also make cookies and popcorn for spring and fall events, which is another way for them to earn money, she said.
In addition, they fill the juice machine by the concession area and do deposits and vouchers.
Barden is joined by LIVE paraprofessionals/job coaches Tami Johnson and Melessa Miller in the program.
WHS senior Christina Rasmussen volunteers as a way to support the five young men in it.
“It will definitely prepare them for once they leave high school,” Barden said of the LIVE program.
In fact, Anderson recently began a watercolor class at Fox Valley Technical College and is starting his own business of drawing caricatures, she said.
“The district is pleased to be able to provide the LIVE program as part of our high school special education curriculum. This program helps fill the gap as students transition from school to community,” Poeschl said. “Mary Jo Barden is passionate about offering opportunities to her students and should be complimented for her efforts in getting this program started. The students are excited to participate and very proud of what they are able to accomplish in both work-related activities and their own personal growth.”