In a move to foster student independence, Huron Valley Schools teachers in the Students Mastering Adult Responsibilities Together (SMART) Program allocated grant dollars to its cognitive impairment and autistic students to rent a duplex in downtown Milford to practice daily living skills.
Special education teachers Amy Ebright, Meganne Howell and Ann Reece collaborated on the initiative that gleaned $800 from the Huron Valley Educational Foundation. Another $100 was donated by the Huron Valley Optimist Club for food, and arts and craft supplies.
The grant funds were leveraged as rent money for a duplex in downtown Milford. The pilot one-month program empowered and liberated the students and was therefore a great success, according to Ebright.
“We learned it’s a great opportunity for the students to see what it’s like to have a housemate and to do what adults do every day, as well as having leisure time together,” Ebright said.
The SMART program is geared toward students between the ages of 18 and 26 with cognitive impairments and autism. It provides instruction and training in employment, daily living, social groups, self-determination and community living. Students learn these essential skills at the Skill Center, the Apollo Center and in the community. To determine whether the skills have been ingrained beyond the school day in realistic life settings, the off-site concept was developed and the students moved in at the beginning of April.
“The students felt independent and successful,” Ebright said. “It was an amazing experience.”
It was also a first-of-its-kind for the program. The initiative bridges the gap between the classroom and independent living.
“Nothing like this has been done before,” Ebright said. “It’s been a career goal for me and a long endeavor.”
During the month-long experience, students did chores, cooked, played games, watched movies and created arts and crafts. At all times, the group was supervised by either teachers, social workers, a psychologist, or the school district’s assistant director of special education. Although there was supervision, the activities and overall planning were student-driven.
“They planned their evenings as housemates and it was entirely student-driven,” Ebright said. “We wanted them to take as much responsibility as possible.”
Another advantage to the program was for families to see how their child copes in an independent environment while pursuing future housing options.
Ebright said next year the teachers collectively would like the students to be housed off-site for a longer period of time, given the rate of success.
“Next year we’ll also fund-raise and ask local restaurants and private donors for food and dollars so the students have more than one month in the duplex,” Ebright said.