In academic classes, our “life-wide” educational approach means that we work with these special individuals to develop or maintain skills across a variety of fields and topics. We focus on functional academics which provide practice, repetition, enrichment, and refreshment of old and new skills with the purpose of assisting these individuals in becoming as independent as possible. We also provide a multitude of classes that are focused on their interests, health, social skills, independent living, spiritual lives, and expression of themselves through the arts.
When one student first came to Trousdale School she was excited to be among so many old friends and to have the opportunity to make new ones. She was thrilled to have entered back into a social circle, but when it came to academic classes she was reticent and even at times resistant. She was quiet, reluctant to participate, and insecure in her abilities. During the time that this student has been at Trousdale School she has shown significant growth in her self-confidence, a new awareness of her abilities and where she specifically needs to ask for help, and a renewed interest in learning. Rather than sitting quietly through reading class trying to just get through it, she seeks out additional one-on-one reading sessions and, thanks to her family and several Trousdale School staff members, now actively listens to current literature via her e-reading device. This student has learned that at Trousdale School the staff will meet her where she is in her learning by providing support and encouragement. She has also learned that the staff will continue to set new challenges before her, celebrating each small step that she takes.
We have had many meaningful victories through our academic programming. One student is excited to calculate the tip every time her family goes out for a meal. Another now runs from staff person to staff person vibrating with excitement to read the story she has just learned. Yet another student has transformed from staring at a blank piece of paper to gaining enough self-confidence to write his thoughts and ideas down in order to express himself. Other students practice money skills by acting as shop owners and challenging each other to calculate totals and pay for their bills. There is such tangible excitement in reading class that the students are waiting in the room before the teacher arrives. Small reading groups engage in lively debates, and the instructor expands and enriches the curriculum utilizing technology that helps students make connections between the words they read on the page and the real world words about which they speak. Students beg for science camp and further experiments and ask for new classes on topics in which they are interested. The students at Trousdale School truly love learning, and they recognize that Trousdale School is a place for learning. Moreover, they are excited that it is their school where the learning is designed for them.
In reading classes and small group interventions, there is a wide range of abilities among the students of Trousdale School. Some students are limited in their reading and comprehension skills while others have the ability to read for fun and for enjoyment. Many of the students have an exceptional level of interest in improving their skill level and in learning new things. They participate with enthusiasm in reading both fiction and nonfiction stories, in writing personal interest stories, and in the drill of learning new reading skills. As teachers, the most fulfilling part of this job is seeing the enthusiasm of the students as they participate at whatever level they are able to read. The stronger the students’ reading skills, the more independent they can become, the more they can read for interest and information, the more they can interact with those around them. As such, the skills learned in reading class have a wide scope of application in the lives of these individuals.
Enrichment classes enhance traditional learning. One student struggles with expressing himself verbally, but yet he loves drama class. Last year the students worked through reading and acting out Beauty and the Beast, and this student came to class each week so excited. It was amazing to watch him stand on stage and read through his part of the script while interacting with his peers. On stage, reading a scripted conversation, this student was able to move past the barrier gathering the words to express himself and was able to focus on the joy of having a conversation.
The program began formally assessing students in 2011 so that we could address their individual strengths and weaknesses, and we have verified since that time that while all students have shown improvement, several students have made significant gains year over year. The Individualized Life Plan (ILP) team utilizes this data annually to establish each student’s present levels and to update their ILP with new goals and objectives for the coming year.