It’s 12:45 in the afternoon. Hundreds of students flock out of the lunch room, heading to their fourth hour classes. The cacophony of teenage voices fades away and silence floods the air.
However, a handful of students remain in the lunch room. These are the students enrolled in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District classroom for students with moderate cognitive impairment at DHS, and they are at their next activity: lunch room cleanup.
Four days a week, after C lunch, students from this classroom aid in stacking chairs and cleaning up the lunch room. While some believe that these students are unjustly forced to work, the purpose of this activity, according to teacher, Liz Shields, is to prepare the students for life after high school.
“Part of our curriculum for this class is to learn life skills,” she said. “And working a job is a life skill.”
Just as DHS students are enrolled in two semester classes, these students practice cleaning throughout the entirety of the school year. “Learning job skills is an ongoing thing, because a lot of them will start with needing a lot of help from us as their job coach, but then by the end of the year, they’re more independent with it,” Shields said.
Special education teaching assistant Richard Korth shares a similar view.
“Everyone has to learn their job and figure out how to do it,” he said. “If you don’t do your job for a while, you get out of the routine and you have to relearn your work.”
While parents reserve the right to opt their child out of this activity, said Shields, none have ever done so. “All the parents understand that having a job and learning how to do a job is part of our curriculum and part of what the kids are going to need after they leave DHS.”
However, the life skills in the curriculum practiced in this classroom aren’t limited to stacking chairs and washing tables; the program also emcompasses a myriad variety of other pivotal tasks.
“We also do all kinds of other life skills things like cooking and laundry and hygiene because those things are all part of our curriculum,” Shields said. “Getting down there and doing that works gives them job experience that will help them for the future.”