Life Skills comes to S.H.S.


Rebecca Riley , Photo Editor

 As of the 2021-2022 school year, Sterling Public Schools notified the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative that the district will operate their own Life Skills program, a program that will affect the lives of several students. The program originated with the cooperative and was housed at the Whiteside Area Career Center. The program focuses on encompassing a positive approach, accommodating environments, and teaching necessary skills to help those with certain needs lead a successful life. 

  Administrator Becky Haas is largely responsible for bringing the program to life. Haas states, “A few years ago I approached Dr. Everett and the district office administrative team about my proposal to start our own life skills program. At the time we didn’t have proper funding or support in place to take on such a project of this size. However, last year when I proposed my plan again it was accepted. It has been my career goal to include all of our students, especially those with special needs as part of our family here at Sterling Public Schools. They deserve to have access to everything that our students without disabilities have access to.” Sterling Schools began to put her plan into action during the summer of 2021. 

  Teachers Jen Malooly and Jennifer Bubrick have several goals for the program. Malooly wants “to start a student business with the class so that they can do more and see success within the community, as well as the school, and they have the opportunity to practice real life applications of the skills we are working on in class.” Bubrick’s goal is similar. Teaching the students how to successfully provide for themselves is important to the teachers. She mentions, “I have ideas of having an apartment for the students to work in and know what it would be like to live on their own. I believe that the sky’s the limit with this program and can go into so many new ideas and ways to improve the daily lives of their future.” Even though the program is fairly new, the wonderful staff, filled with excitement, have many ways for the program to blossom. 

  Next to the administrator and teachers, there are several more astounding staff that made this dream a reality. Maureen Marandino (Speech Language Pathologist), Susanna Riley (PT), Andrea Cashman (Occupational Therapist), Katie Henrekin (Occupational Therapy Assistant), Denis Hartz and other aides. 

  Although this job is very rewarding, there are certain challenges each staff member has to conquer. Riley expresses that it is the most difficult aspects of her job that she enjoys the most. She states, “Every day at work is definitely a work out! I get to climb on playground equipment, crawl around on the floor, jump, hop and lift. There are many ideas of what PT stands for besides Physical Therapy…. Many may say “physical torture” but for me my job is “play time.” Either way you can’t spell Party without PT.” 

  All staff have seen the rewarding aspects of the program. Marandino states three memorable aspects of the program, “For me, there are three main rewards: the collaborative efforts between all team members in supporting the educational needs of the students, the beauty of watching a student meet a challenging goal/objective, and trying unconventional teaching methods (e.g., music therapy, augmentative and alternative communication) to enable functional communication.”

  This program offers never-ending chances for SHS students while using new technology to supply these opportunities. Some of the students use communication devices on the iPad to help them communicate; when they touch a picture, a voice from the iPad says the word-AAC. The Life Skills program incorporates AAC (using pictures and other visuals to help someone communicate) in their daily activities.

  Although the program is new to SHS, the students’ faces are not. Aide Dennis Hartz comments “To be honest, as a general education teacher here at SHS for 20 years, I have to admit when I first heard about the Life Skills program, I didn’t know very much about Life Skills and didn’t really know what to expect.” Soon, Hartz learned the rewards of helping these students find ways to achieve their goals no matter how large or small. SHS is beyond excited to welcome this program and all who it encompasses! In the spirit of true Warrior pride they will be greeted with a nice warm smile and encouragement from every student who runs across any member of this program.

  The program provides learning opportunities for both students and staff. The amazing staff’s ultimate goal of placing the students’ needs first, establishes a successful and hopeful life for these kids.