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Learning real life

Students turn learned skills in experiences

Minooka 8th grader Kim Ewald pays for her bowling game at Echo Lanes. Kim participates in a special education program where she learns life skills such as dealing with money, cooking and shopping.
Minooka 8th grader Kim Ewald pays for her bowling game at Echo Lanes. Kim participates in a special education program where she learns life skills such as dealing with money, cooking and shopping.

Twelve-year-old special needs student Christian Shaw strategically placed two dollar bills on the cashier counter at Echo Lanes to pay all by himself for his bowling game.

"No money back!" Christian shouted with a smile.

"You're right. No money back this time," Marlene Walls, Echo Lanes manager, said Tuesday.

Christian is learning how to pay for his own activities, hold casual conversations, order food and even grocery shop through Grundy County's special education program stationed at Saratoga School in Morris. Students of all grades from schools all around the county are involved in the program.

"We teach them life skills through this multi-need life skills program," Ericka Wright, special education teacher, said.

In the classroom, the students learn lessons and how to do things the average person takes advantage of, such as forming a grocery list or doing laundry. The program then has a hands-on portion of the lesson, where the students are taken out into the community to practice these lessons.

Every week, the students take part in a real-life activity, either doing a recreation activity or shopping at Walmart to experience the life skills they're learning in the classroom.

"We're training them to be independent adults. We teach them how to deal with money, read menus, cook, do laundry, and take care of themselves," Wright said. "We start during the young ages because, with these types of kids, it might take 10 times longer for them to learn than the typical kid."

This week, the kids were bowling for a recreation activity. Wright's PRIDE class and Suzanne Thompson's CHOICES class attended the activity.

Although most of the kids enjoy the bowling weeks most, because it's "awesome," according to Christian, the activity is an important experience for them to practice socializing.

"We do the recreation activities so they can learn to call their friends and say I want to go bowling and then come in, get their shoes, find a lane and sit appropriately," Wright said.

While the group got ready to leave, eighth-grader Kim Ewald of Minooka placed her purse on the counter, pulled out her wallet, gave the cashier $5 and remembered to wait for her change. Kim has down syndrome.

"Thank you," Kim said as she carefully put her change in her wallet.

Following Kim, 11-year-old Hunter Gill of Minooka pulled out her wallet and gave the cashier a bit too much.

"I gave you too much. I'm sorry about that," Hunter said.

Dining Out

After all the kids paid and returned their bowling shoes, they headed to Chapin's Restaurant for lunch. Each month the program alternates where the children go for lunch so they learn the difference between ordering food at a fastfood restaurant and at a sit-down restaurant.

As Hunter sat down at a table, she unfolded her napkin, placing all her silverware to her right, and refolded the napkin several times while attempting to lay it on the booth she was sitting in. Wright explained she should put her napkin on her lap, and Hunter quickly did.

"Where's my food?" Hunter asked.

"We ordered, now we just have to wait," Wright explained.

This month, the students are eating at Chapin's Restaurant. Owners Scott and Dianne Breslar were honored to be asked to participate in the program and worked to meet the program's budget.

"They've given us more then we've given them. The whole staff enjoys when they come in," Dianne Breslar said.

She said the servers try to have fun with all of the kids and the kitchen staff always tries to create an interesting dessert the kids will really enjoy.

Eating in a sit-down restaurant allows the kids to practice their manners and patience while waiting for their food. This is a good opportunity for them to try and carry on conversations.

"You and I take for granted sitting down and always having something to talk about," Thompson said. "Our students have to learn to have a conversation, finish one and how to move on to the next one."

Student Drew Kirkman, a seventh grader from Morris, is a little ahead of some of his classmates in the conversation part of their lessons. As he waited for his lunch, he chatted away with special education assistant Chris DiGuido.

"So how was your morning?" Drew asked with complete confidence.

Next week, the kids will go back to Walmart to work on reading a shopping list, finding the item and asking employees for assistance.

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