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Community outings help kids develop regular skills

June 18, 2005

In her three years at Wy’east Middle School, Special Education teacher Andrea Britton developed a community outings program that helped her seven students learn practical skills in a variety of community settings.

She said the yearlong program of community outings to businesses and agencies around Hood River County in 2004-05 did much to improve her students’ social skills, personal safety knowledge, and understanding of how to function around strangers.

Students learned about the varying appropriateness of how to speak with, or touch, people in businesses, and other strangers or acquaintances, as opposed to how they interact with family members or close friends.

Such community contacts, along with classroom work, helped address the differing cognitive and physical ability levels among the special needs students; skills range from fully ambulatory to being wheelchair dependent.

At the Hood River Laundromat, the students learned about making change, asking for help with the machines, and buying detergent.

Students made four trips to Parkhurst Assisted Living Center, making fleece hats and Christmas ornaments, and following up with letters to the residents.

“There was some initial reticence, but by the end the students and the elders were all laughing together,” she said. “It helped them practice social skills even with people they felt comfortable with. It was a great experience for both parties, and they really wanted to keep going back but unfortunately there wasn’t time.”

Down Manor sponsored a garden plot for the students, and they made regular visits to take care of the vegetables they planted from seed. “This was a really good life skill, as well as recreation skill, for the students to learn,” Britton said.

Visits to All Animal Care Clinic underscored the pet care skills the students learned in class.

“They go to doctors themselves and it was good for them to see that animals also go to the doctor,” Britton said.

Britton, who is leaving Hood River to return to New Hampshire, expressed her appreciation to the community groups that worked with her students.

“Your time, support and energy allowed my students to feel safe out in the community,” Britton said, addressing the community partners. “Additionally, students were able to practice functional academic skills, social skills and life skills that they have learned in the classroom setting and apply these skills in the community. I thank them for accepting us as part of the community.”

Community partners this school year were: The Heights Laundromat, Rasmussen Farms; International Museum of Carousel Art, Parkhurst Assisted Living, Dollar Tree, 1301 restaurant, Frankton Head Start, All Animal Care Clinic, Celia’s Cut-n-Curl, Down Manor for the Garden Plot, Columbia Gorge Center (CJ and Lori Hourston), Oregon Zoo, OMSI, Hood River Toll Bridge, Hood River Aquatic Center, Orchard Lanes, Rosauers, and Hood River News.

— Kirby Neumann-Rea

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