ADAMS TWP — In its first full year, a program at Mars High School providing a life skills room and coffee shop area for students with special needs to learn how to live independently has been a rousing success.
That program will get even bigger next year due to a newly secured grant.
Mars teacher Samantha Flanhofer recently wrote and was awarded a $26,670 grant from the Bernita Buncher Educational Advancement Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation to create a new Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) room in the school.
The program aims to give students functional skills that can be used in real careers. The hands-on curriculum provides basic career and life skills training, assessments of career skills, exploration of different types of careers and guidance on work behavior.
The room itself will have a lab-like feel, allowing students to solve problems, develop work relationships and test their skills in timed challenges. The program focuses on skills for jobs in the consumer service industry, business and marketing, processing and production, construction and industrial, and computer technology.
Flanhofer said school officials are determining where the room will be located, and it will be ready when students return to school in the fall.
The grant comes a little more than a year after Flanhofer received a $21,554 grant from the Jack Buncher Foundation for the creation of a life skills room at the high school.
That room offers students a chance to master tasks that will help them live independently after leaving school. The life skills room contains a fully functioning apartment, including a bathroom, laundry area, kitchen, family area and bedroom. Students learn everything from cooking dinner to cleaning a shower.
To “pay rent” for the apartment, students work in a second room down the hall that houses the Rocket Fuel Cafe coffee shop. There, they take orders and serve their fellow students and staff. With the “Mars Money” earned on the job, students also pay bills, such as electric and cable, which they mail through an in-house postal service.
Flanhofer said a recent audit of the first year of the program showed it has been a success, with students showing progress in a number of areas. She said she is thrilled to expand the program, with all three classrooms intertwined.
Superintendent Wesley Shipley said the programs combined will help expand the district's ability to prepare students for life outside the classroom.
“Our goal is to provide students with the requisite skill set to transition from school to the workplace or additional education if desired,” he said.