Skills class offers chance for independence

Son is more social as result of program, mother says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Jordan Data’s favorite part of class is doing laundry. Data, 21, is one of the 11 students enrolled in the Placer County Office of Education’s Functional Skills Program at the DeWitt Center in Auburn. The program teaches developmentally disabled 18 to 22 year old students how to care for themselves, their homes and how to get around the community. Class Instructor Molly Cromwell said the program covers skills like meal preparation, laundry, socialization, cleaning, vacuuming, answering the phone, purchasing food, taking public transit, applying and interviewing for jobs and more. Sue Bolton, administrator for the program, said the class started 25 years ago at Sierra College, and there are now three classes in Placer County in Auburn, Loomis and Rocklin, with a total of 30 students. “My goal is for my students to be independent in the community,” Cromwell said. “I understand some of the students may continue to live at home, but many of my students have a dream of living on their own and being independent.” The program provides students with schedules and lists of instructions so that learning and keeping up on skills are consistent, Cromwell said. The DeWitt Center building is set up to look like a home, with a kitchen, restroom, computer area, social area, lounge area and instructional area. Bolton said a grant from the California Department of Education also allows for a Workability Program in connection to the class. Through this program several students got out into the community and work at local businesses. This gives them job experience and allows them to learn to use public transit to get around the community. In this program students are shadowed to their jobs to make sure nothing goes wrong, Bolton said. Bolton said the Workability Program is important because many developmentally disabled adults can’t advocate for, get or keep jobs. “I think one of the things we know historically about students with special needs is they are very under-represented in the workplace,” she said. The work gives the students another schedule and regulations to learn and follow, furthering their real-world experiences, Bolton said. “If you are going to work at the Round Table, you are expected to arrive at a certain time, dress a certain way and accept assignments that are given,” she said. Data is currently working at Best Western. “I do yard cleaning, vent and pool cleaning,” Data said. When he began working at the motel, he had help with his tasks. “But now I’m more independent,” Data said. Bus schedules and forms explaining how to use the system are always on hand in the classroom, Cromwell said. “We use these on a regular basis,” she said. “This is part of their lives because many of the students will never have driver’s licenses, but they need to be able to get around our community.” The class recently moved to the DeWitt Center from its former location on Mikkelsen Drive and is located right next to a bus stop. Brett Berkebile, 21, is also in the Workability Program and, after attending a conference, realized he wanted to work with other students. “I go to Rock Creek and help Down Syndrome kids,” Berkebile said. “I work with reading, spelling, drawing and do recess and do P.E.” In August the Placer Union High School District will take over the program, because each local high school district is starting its own Functional Skills Program. The class will remain at the DeWitt Center, Bolton said. Granite Bay resident Patricia Sullivan, whose son Geoffrey Van Koersel is in the Auburn class, said she has seen positive changes in her son since he began the Functional Skills Program. “He likes doing things with his classmates,” Sullivan said. “He likes socializing with the other kids, which is something that didn’t really start until after high school. When he first started in the program he didn’t really interact well with the other kids in school. Now he really wants to be with the other kids … and socializes with them.” Sullivan said she thinks the program is wonderful and is happy it’s helping her son find some long-term employment. “That’s something I couldn’t really do on my own,” she said. “I don’t know how parents could work if it weren’t for programs like this.” Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------ Functional Skills Program Information: Call Placer County Office of Education, Special Education at (530) 889-8020 or visit