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Special needs students get hands-on experience

Assistant teacher Jane Wright helps Tasha Henderson, an eighth-grader, pick out pansies. Special needs students at West Lincoln Middle School spend class time running errands in town for teachers. This helps them gain real world experience with counting money, writing checks and communicating their needs to store employees. Jenny Walling / LTN Photo

Counting money, finding the right brand of detergent and identifying a healthy pansy have all become part of the education of West Lincoln Middle School’s special needs students.
Once a week students from the school run errands in town to help teach them basic life skills.
“It’s a functional class,” said Anne Upton, one of the school’s special needs teachers. ”I’m teaching them to survive.”
Students practice before going into town by writing fake checks and role playing situations. They also map out their route to make sure to get their errands done in a timely fashion.
“They do a good job by time they get to town,” said Upton.
The students run a variety of errands assigned to them by teachers throughout the school. To request a service, teachers must fill out a form that the students look over.
Wednesday’s field trip included the bank, the post office and Lowes to search for yellow and purple pansies.
For many, a fast food lunch in which they ordered and paid for their own food, proved to be the highlight.
“I like coming because you get to spend time with friends,” said Jessica Jenkins, a student.
The students go out to lunch six or seven times a year, said Upton. Before going to a restaurant, they use class time to study the menu.
When the students shop or order food, Upton and her teacher assistant take a passive role.
“It kind of defeats the purpose if I do it for them,” said Upton.
Some students go off on their own to find certain items in the store, others search with the help of a teacher.
If a student has a problem they are often instructed to ask for help from store employees. They have practiced the proper way to do this in class.
“If we go in Wal-Mart, and we ask for help, we use good manners,” said Jessica.
Upton has occasionally tested her students to see if they can stand up for themselves.
She had one bank teller purposefully shortchange a student $40.
“She counted the money, and she said ‘This is not right,’” said Upton. The student was praised for a job well done.
Store employees have learned to recognize Upton and her class. The teacher began the program six years ago.
She hopes that by going out and doing everyday tasks, her students will learn how to be independent.
She especially focuses on student’s ability to deal with money. They have worked with blank checks, cash and ATM cards.“It’s just a skill they need if they’re going to have a family and survive,” Upton said. by Sarah Grano

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