Developmentally challenged students learn life skills

By: Muriel Brounstein Telegraph Correspondent
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For one local teacher, teaching life skills is just as important as mathematics and language. Karla Jones, a special education teacher in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, developed the district’s Independent Living Skills Program in 1988. Participation in the program allows the students to transition into the world of work and to become self-sufficient, productive members of society. Each student has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), which is structured to meet his or her unique needs. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday the students participate in functional academic learning, like counting change and balancing a checkbook. On Wednesdays they master independent living skills, like cooking, doing laundry and recognizing street signs. And on Fridays they participate in “community based instruction,” learning work skills at various businesses in the Broadstone Shopping Center. Currently, students are working at McDonald’s, Hobbytown, Round Table, CVS Pharmacy, PetSmart and Michael’s. Sheri Hall, McDonald’s General Manager, has been working with Jones’s students for four years. “It’s a fantastic program for the students, for the community and for McDonald’s,” Hall said. She said Erica Lauruhn, who started as a trainee, but has been a paid employee for two years. “It’s been wonderful to see her gain confidence,” Hall said. “She’s now talking to customers and processing her job priorities all on her own.” Jones’s face lights up when asked about her favorite part of the job. “It’s when a light bulb goes on, after going over and over and over the same thing, and then there’s a breakthrough,” Jones said. “I know that I’m making a difference.” Jones attributes her accomplishments to all the help and support of the student, instructional assistants and parents. Tabi Lutz, a student aide in Jones’s class, first decided to volunteer because her brother Connor was in the class and she wanted to find out what he was learning and bring that information home. Another of Jones’s teaching assistants, Rozy Saini, started working with special education students in the fourth grade. “I find the experience rewarding,” Saini said. “I’ve been friends with some of these students since elementary school.” Jones says that another highlight of her job is when parents thank her for advocating for their children. “If I need help, my students’ parents are here immediately. They hold a yearly garage sale to raise extra funds,” Jones said. “Things like laundry detergent and a vacuum cleaner just aren’t in the budget.”