‘This is a wonderful program’

Matthew Strother News editor

October 26, 2013

Troup County schools is not just teaching its special needs exceptional education students life skills in the classroom, but placing them in areas of the community where they can learn, hands on, the life and job skills they will one day need.

The Community-Based Instruction program began in 2009. Troup High School piloted the program in 2008 under Jodi Mazzolini who worked with community sites to get students out of the classroom and learning job skills first-hand. After partnering with Callaway and LaGrange high schools, the Community-Based Instruction program, placed under the direction of Vanessa Robertson, branched out to get students from all high schools working around the community as a way to teach them life skills.

The students in the program range in age from 15 to 22 and go to work at the sites Mondays from 9 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m.

“It’s been positive for our students and businesses as well,” said Stephanie Hall, Troup High School exceptional education teacher.

Troup High School exceptional education students go to IHOP, Vowell’s Furniture, Piggly Wiggly on South Greenwood Street and LaGrange College.

“This is definitely training they need to get out out in the community,” Hall said. “It’s definitely what they need - life skills out in the community.”

The program starts students in “stepping stones,” Hall said. Exceptional education students begin with school-based training, then go to community-based training, where they work at a church or non-profit where there will be fewer people. Then they work up to job-based skills at local businesses.

“It gives them job skills and daily living skills,” said Lynne McClellan, exceptional education teacher at LaGrange High School. “It helps them understand service and helping others. It makes them work together and cooperate with each other, and work as a team.”

Longhorn has participated since the inception of the Community-Based Instruction program. At the Lafayette Parkway restaurant, students measure and weigh vegetables, prepare sides like hot fudge, measure portions and prepare food to be cooked in the kitchen. In other areas, students clean, stack plates and roll silverware.

Tyler Rowe and Clint Abercrombie were busy preparing tables Monday. Jaamal Terry was among students in the kitchen, preparing walnuts.

“It’s really amazing what they’re able to do,” said Longhorn manager Gabe Stovall. “They are able to perform any job … and they are a lot of fun to be around. We look forward to each day they come over.”

Monday, the students were treated to a surprise meal by staff as a thank you for their work. Hall said students often are fed by Longhorn management, but Monday were given their pick of meals from the menu.

“It’s been a neat relationship, everybody’s been real positive,” Hall said.

Hall said the students are taking back what they learn on the job sites into the classroom. The students also have shown increased comprehension of job skills by working in the program.

All students in the program are evaluated with a rubric designed to see how well they are learning basic skills like dress and punctuality, to focus on their task, quality of work and time it takes them to complete.

“They can stay in the program until they’re 22 and it gives them training to go to the job site, and allows them to be very successful,” said Hall. “The parents have been very supportive.”

Mazzolini, now a parent mentor, said working with the students at a local shopping center, which wished to remain unnamed, helps teach the students organizational skills. Students Thomas Wilder and Toma Rosencrants on Monday stocked half-gallon cartons of juice, checking expiration dates to see where they should be placed, while April Pearson and Summer Grier were cleaning windows in the frozen food aisle.

“It’s a great experience, they love it,” Mazzolini said. “They do a great job”

Students from LaGrange High go to Country’s Barbecue, LaGrange College dining hall and the Red Cross.

Students working at LaGrange First United Methodist Church has predated the program. Rick Free, director of food services at First United Methodist Church, said students started coming to help prepare the church’s “soup kitchen” before he began at the church nine years ago.

The students pack sack lunches to be distributed to needy people. They also set tables and help prepare tables for the Wednesday evening supper service and once a month sanitize the nursery toys.

“They’re always willing and always able,” Free said. “This is a wonderful program.”

Emily Jones is a first-year exceptional education teacher at LaGrange High School. She has been impressed with how the program “clicks” with the students.

“I absolutely love it,” Jones said. “I love the different opportunities they have. The soup kitchen is probably one of their favorites, it relates what they learn in the classroom about daily living skills.”

Jones said she enjoys seeing when the students make that connection between classroom learning and practical application.

Since it began at the church, it has expanded to have students from all the high schools rotate to help Wednesday along with Gardner Newman and Long Cane middle school.

“This is one program where we both get a lot out of it,” Free said. “They do a lot important things that otherwise would fall to staff or volunteers.”