Special education facilities draw praise for new renovations

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By Chanelle Ongagna, Staff Reporter The grand atrium and renovated tech labs might be the flashiest additions to the high school, but the new facilities of the life skills classrooms offer just as much to admire. Complete with a kitchenette, washers and dryers, closet space and storage, and an in-class bathroom with a shower, the...

By Chanelle Ongagna, Staff Reporter

The grand atrium and renovated tech labs might be the flashiest additions to the high school, but the new facilities of the life skills classrooms offer just as much to admire. Complete with a kitchenette, washers and dryers, closet space and storage, and an in-class bathroom with a shower, the new space — tucked behind the atrium and art rooms — has inspired much excitement amongst teachers and students alike. 

The life skills program, an arm of the special education program, offers students ready access to academic support and provides opportunities for practicing functional skills needed later in life, like doing laundry and washing dishes. 

Special education teacher Michael DeVitis compares the new space to an apartment; he believes the renovations make learning more fun and easier for students. In previous years, he taught in multiple rooms, which created stress and difficulty both for himself and his students who thrive off consistency and routine.

“It’s invigorating for both students and staff,” DeVitis said. “We’ve been able to just utilize things we haven’t had before and practice things we couldn’t before, in functional ways, which is how the students learn best.”

Social skills and language development teacher Madison Galanti also enjoys the close proximity of the different classrooms to each other. The special education classrooms run from room 1011 to 1015, making resources readily available in one defined area. Galanti appreciates how much more she can do with her students using the new facilities. She believes students are equally eager about getting to use these resources for themselves.

“(Seeing the renovations) was a good way to start the year off, especially after our last school year, because it was so crazy,” Galanti said. “The rooms are much bigger and more spacious. I can even set up different areas around the room, like a quiet reading space. Or, I can have small tables at the back if we want to kind of sit together and have a group discussion. There’s just lots of room for different kinds of instruction.”

Some of the classrooms are dual-purpose with a unique setup: the front is a typical classroom, now with SMART Boards, cubbies and more storage space than before. However, one classroom now contains a kitchenette outfitted with washing machines, dryers, a refrigerator and a bathroom.

“I like how much thought went into how this space could best serve our students,” Galanti said. 

The students are similarly enthusiastic about the new space.

“The entire kitchen space is great,” one student said. “It really feels like a true life skills classroom. It is very comfortable with a nice view.” 

The students enjoy the kitchen the most, since it allows them many opportunities to practice the life skills they learn in class.

“I like vacuuming and using the dishwasher,” another student said. 

To DeVitis, one of the best things about the new facilities is how they promote cooperation and a team spirit amongst the students. He likes that their new resources allow them to continue participating in the school community, something he worried students wouldn’t be able to do as much, considering the new special ed classrooms’ distance from the rest of the building.

“I wouldn’t say we’re isolated from the group, but we also see less people so you have to make a conscious effort to be out there,” DeVitis said.

To these ends, the life skills program makes an effort to participate regularly in school events, including through their coffee cart initiative. The coffee cart, which is organized and run by the special education department, gives life skills students a chance to use their new facilities for preparing and making beverages. Simultaneously, it promotes interaction with the rest of the school. DeVitis believes the coffee cart’s success results from the department’s determination to remain active in the larger school community. 

“Whether it be setting up, running the event, cleaning up afterwards — all those things — we are all in it together,” DeVitis said. “We all have a role and there is a really great sense of accomplishment. Having the new space made that experience much, much easier and more efficient. We just kind of want to make sure we’re seen.”

Besides the opportunity to practice cooperation, DeVitis appreciates the various opportunities the new space offers staff and students. Even now, he says, the enthusiasm about the new space hasn’t worn off.

“Even though we’re still a part of Conestoga,” DeVitis said, “it feels almost like a completely new school.”


Chanelle Ongagna can be reached at [email protected]

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