On November 27th, four excited students, two para educators, and one special education teacher took a fieldtrip to Opportunity Village in Clear Lake and to Exceptional Treasures in Algona. Teacher Mary Gelhaus of North Union High School had five objectives in mind for her level 3 student’s learning. She wanted to broaden the students’ perceptions of future career options and opportunities for meaningful employment, to broaden her knowledge of diversity of services within and outside of our area, increase her knowledge base of activities to incorporate into her classroom, especially pre-vocational training and life skills, to increase the students’ awareness of possibilities beyond their homes and communities in which they now live, and to have the students practice money skills, functional reading of signs and menus, and social skills.
To make this happen, Mary worked with Transition Coordinator, Diane Nelsen, of Prairie Lakes AEA to obtain a mini-grant. The money supporting these “mini transition grants” is part of the larger Prairie Lakes AEA Transition SPDG from the Department of Ed. The transition coordinators of PLAEA wanted to be innovative in providing school districts and classrooms with opportunities to expand their transition knowledge through an interactive opportunity for students and teachers. This is how the opportunity came to be given to all high school special education teachers/districts in Prairie Lakes AEA. The opportunity for funding was communicated at the beginning of this school year and made available through the course of this year. This is a one-year opportunity.
To prepare her students for the trip, Mary worked on functional signs with and without a visual cue. For example, “women’s restroom.” The students learned to read/recognize the word “women” and learned to recognize the picture (stick figure in a dress) that would typically be on the women’s restroom door and handicap figure that may be on the sign. They were introduced to many of these signs before their trip, and they continue to learn more of them. The grant made it possible for the students to put their knowledge into action as many of these signs are not found in their small hometown communities.
At Opportunity Village, they toured the on-campus facilities including day services, greenhouse, work activities center, therapeutic activities, lunchroom, computer center, and pool. Off-campus they toured the Village General Store to observe another work experience—shelving items, pricing, washing, dusting, packing, etc. At the end of the tour, they were given promotional DVD of Opportunity Village. After the tour, the group ate at Culver’s in Clear Lake. At Culver’s, students had a chance to practice their skills of reading a menu and money (ordering, paying, and getting change) beyond a classroom setting. Eating out also gave them a chance to practice table manners. After lunch they traveled to Algona for a tour of the Exceptional Treasures store. This gave the students a chance to compare work opportunities between two stores and to observe a work opportunity near their current home communities. All four students are Kossuth County residents and some of them have shopped at Exceptional Treasures. This tour gave them a different perspective of the store. Now they were not shoppers, but rather they saw how the store was run and saw a possible employment opportunity for them in the future.
Prior to the trip, Mary obtained a menu from Culver’s for the students to practice ordering. The menu had words as well as pictures of every item. Mary deliberately chose Culver’s because it was an unfamiliar restaurant for most of the students and not near their hometowns. Having prior knowledge of menu items gave the students independence in ordering and choices rather than always eating the same thing, because that is what was ordered for them or that is all they knew to order.
The class has also been working on money skills. Not only did they practice ordering from a menu, they also practiced paying for their order and receiving change. Mary told each of students that they had a certain amount of money to spend, so they also practiced ordering and figuring on money calculator to see if they had enough money to order what they wished. Sometimes they had to reorder many times (in practice situations) before they were within their budget and that meant some tough choices!
As a follow up to the trip they reviewed everything from the signs they had seen to their thoughts of Culver’s experience to comparing the career opportunities. The students and adults had a great learning experience.
“I think that I achieved all 5 goals that I had set prior to going on this trip. The students were excited to go, tired by the end of the day, but they came the next day and were able to discuss the many positive things they had experienced” said Gelhaus. “I want to thank the AEA transition team for making this trip possible. Would I have done these skills (functional signs, menu reading, etc) if I did not receive the grant? Yes, but the grant made it possible to put learning into practice. My students had a chance to practice their skills beyond the classroom, and they saw opportunities for themselves after high school.”