What should families expect their children to learn in a life skills class at the high school level? A simple question; however, I think many schools seem to struggle with providing valuable life skills lessons. Our students age out at 22 years old, which means the state is no longer responsible with providing the students services through public schools. When students attain that age and leave our system, it is incredibly important for them and their family that the student has learned coping skills to assist them to become more independent in their life.
Many schools have a program where the student has a self-contained special education class for more than half the day. In order for the students to learn basic life skills the class must go off campus for their lesson plans, commonly referred to as Community Based Instruction (CBI). CBI is the essential component helping our students with disabilities achieve their independence. Collaboration among all stake-holders; family members, teachers, and administration is the first step to ensure community trips have true meaning or rigor.
You’ll see many teachers take the class off campus and go to the grocery store. This trip has merit and is on my list; however, a lesson plan must be made. If you are one of the stake-holders you’ll need to decide on an activity and set a few goals you want to see the students accomplish on this trip. All this is simple and makes sense, but what have the students done in the classroom to prepare themselves for this trip? What are the goals for the trip? And what will the students do after the trip to obtain a skill? All of these are essential questions the stakeholders must answer as families have the right to know what their children are doing in class.
Before walking off campus the class must go over a mapped out set of lessons that pertain to the said activity. Backwards planning is usually the way to go when preparing a lesson; this means the teacher with the possible help of other stakeholders decides what they want the student to learn. If the lesson calls for the students to make French Toast the class will have to study about the food items and the cooking items. At this level having a list with the pictures is necessary for comprehension. When the list is complete the students should be shown how to get on the internet and look up food prices and sales. Bringing in a Sunday paper and having them cut out coupons of their food items is something they should do as well. To complete their pre-taught skills the students need to figure out about how much money the food will cost and make a budget with the money they have.
When going off campus the students are always accompanied by the teacher and paraprofessionals. It’s important the adults let the students do as much as the preparation as possible as the primary reason of the class is to give them more independence. On this trip the students should have a list of the food items and a list of their coupons. The role of the adults is to make sure the students stay on task and oversee their budget, just as any teacher would do in any class working on a guided assignment.
Arriving back at school the students must learn to put the items away. Sometimes you’ll see the adults do it, but the students must learn. Cooking for themselves is a basic life skill they must attain because they might be on their own in the future and have no one to do things for them. Illustrated directions are the way to go for our students, as they need to be able to see the picture of the pan or whisk along with the basic written directions so they can make food for themselves independently.
Cooking is just one basic skill families should expect their children to learn while they’re in this program at the high school level. CBI trips are necessary for our students to accomplish and learn many new skills. Some schools do a great job of this instructional program and some do not, I encourage all family members to participate and become a veritable stakeholder in their child’s education at this level. Learning the basic skills will make a vast difference for everybody involved.
Eric Peres has been teaching students with special needs for the past 11 years. During that time he has worked in RSP, SDP, CBI, and has been a Special