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Life Skills
Dorothy Smith, a client at Heritage Manor Nursing Home in Minonk, watched as Tonya Boedigheimer, of Wenona, left, a sophomore and Brittany Lindsay of Rutland, a junior, both students at Fieldcrest High School, set tables under the direction of program director Jessica Stremlau, life skills teacher, Tuesday, May 17, 2011. High School students with disabilities are brought into the workplace to study potential careers as part of their academic studies. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

Senior Brittany Lindsay filled salad dressing containers and set tables at Heritage Manor nursing home in Minonk, skills she’s learned in the last five months through a new program at Fieldcrest High School.

Lindsay, of Rutland; sophomore Tonya Boedigheimer of Wenona; and freshman Mackenzie Rogers of Minonk, are the first students in a life skills program that combines classroom work with job skills.

At the nursing home, the students fold laundry, help prepare and serve food, set tables and help with bingo and other activities. It’s been so successful that the program will increase to six students next year, said Suzanne Novak, social services designee at Heritage Manor.

“Everybody looks forward to it — residents and staff,” she said of the 50 residents and 65 staff members.

The sentiment goes both ways. “We love the residents; they are so sweet and kind to us,” Lindsay said.

The students learn real skills they can use to find jobs in a competitive market, said Jessica Stremlau, who has taught special education at Fieldcrest for nine years. “It’s amazing – a magical transformation,” she said.

Previously, the students graduated with a diploma but no productive skills, she said.

The program is part of a “vision” of new superintendent Josh Olsen. Among the first things he did was meet with special education staff to talk about new student opportunities.

Other schools have planned visits to Fieldcrest to see the program in action, Stremlau said.

This fall, the school will work with the state’s Division of Rehabilitation Services to help students get paid for their work. The program includes a job coach, and should help lead toward their independence, Stremlau said.

At Heritage, the students love to go into residents’ rooms and talk, especially if they have time to listen to the stories of a popular resident who is 101.

“I love to mingle with the residents after I finish my job,” said Rogers, who works in housekeeping.

“We’ve gotten better acquainted and they are doing real well,” said nursing home resident Laddie Wilhelm, who talked with Lindsay as she poured his cranberry juice.

“They treat us like family,” Stremlau said, who hopes to partner with more businesses. “We have a purpose. We have a learning experience.”

Novak likes the idea of more job sites, but quickly adds, “We’re not giving (our current students) up.”

“We love our girls,” agreed second-shift cook Kimberly Ryan of Toluca.

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