Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 15, 2004

Winsted Elementary students forge special relationships while at ATHC

By Jenni Sebora

When Winsted Elementary teachers Josh Klenken and Scott Klavetter moved their classes to the neighboring Adult Training and Habilitation Center, little did they know the lessons they and their students would learn.

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district leased two portable classrooms to provide needed space at both Waverly and Winsted elementary schools.

Mold was found at the Winsted portable classroom before school started this year. As a result, the fourth and fifth grades needed a different “home” until the classrooms were made safe.

From September to Nov. 4, their new “homes” were at the ATHC, which stands next to Winsted Elementary.

The ATHC serves 62 adult “consumers” with developmental disabilities and has 22 employees who work with those adults. The adults do a variety of jobs at the center, or work in the surrounding communities.

With the help of the ATHC staff, Klenken and his fourth-graders turned the center’s lunchroom into a classroom, while ATHC’s consumers ate in another room.

Klavetter and his fifth-graders used another available room down the hallway. Since the ATHC opened in Hutchinson four years ago, the Winsted center had some available classroom space, ATHC executive director Stephen Wilson said.

“It was easy and simple for us,” Wilson said of the elementary students’ move to the ATHC. “To the consumers at the ATHC, there was no big issue. The interactions between the students and the consumers have been fantastic.”

Klenken agreed. He told of one developmentally disabled adult who often sat by the sun-filled window next to the fourth grade class. The adult waited for the students to come out of their classroom, so he could visit with them, Klenken said.

The students, as well, enjoyed greeting and talking with him, Wilson said. “It’s been great to show who we are and what we do. It’s normal for us, but for others it is not.”

In their first days at ATHC, students’ eyes were as wide as softballs. It was so different from being at school. The students adjusted quickly. Many times, when students got on the bus to go home, often a student was missing, busy visiting with a consumer, Klenken said.

“It was a forced relationship that worked well,” Klavetter said.

Most students don’t have exposure to adults with disabilities. They might have peers with disabilities in their classrooms, but it has been good for them to see what happens to these peers beyond school, when they become adults, Wilson said.

It’s been a positive experience because teachers Klenken and Klavetter, and Wilson and the ATHC staff have been very open and positive, Principal Becky Gerdes said

“It’s been positive on both ends because of the people and the programs. Everyone has been both personal and professional. Scott and Josh are excellent teachers and good role models in the classroom,” she said.

The ATHC staff has been helpful with everything from providing space to desks and bathroom use, Gerdes said.

Klenken echoed similar sentiments. “Ask, and it was there,” he said. “They gave us keys to the doors and allowed us to use their parking lot. The staff at the ATHC has done a great job. There have there have been no issues on anything.”

The students’ parents have also been supportive. Parents didn’t express any concerns, Klenken said.

That the center was so close to the school was nice, he said. “We lost some time travel-wise, walking back and forth for music and gym and such, but we gained in the experiences and relationships formed.”

True incidental learning has taken place for everyone, both teachers said.

For Klenken and his fourth graders, it has been a test of flexibility, he said. “It has been good for the kids. Life isn’t just straight forward; there are twists and turns that occur.”

Being a first-year teacher, Klavetter said he hasn’t known anything else, so he easily adjusted to the situation.

“It is what I started out with,” Klavetter said. “The challenge may have been bigger than what one would expect, but it helped being the young guy on the block.”

Both teachers agreed the change didn’t hinder the students’ learning, but rather, being at the center enhanced it.

“Our students gained learning experiences that they could not get in a school building,” Klavetter said.

Now that the ATHC’s makeshift classrooms are empty, everyone involved will miss the relationships they have formed.

School work was not the only order of the day at ATHC.

The students joined the developmentally disabled adults for some Halloween activities. Klavetter and Klenken helped the adults solve the ATHC “trivia question for the day.”

On sunny days, the students looked for their friend sitting by the sun-filled window. Friendships were made.

It was a loss for the consumers and the ATHC staff when the students left, Wilson said. “We appreciate what we do in ‘our world,’ and it has been nice to have the opportunity to offer what we do to young people – a lifelong learning piece.”

The students will miss being at the ATHC on a daily basis, too. Klenken recalled hearing a student say, “I don’t want to move. I like this classroom.”

Now that the students are in the portable classrooms, and the ATHC consumers are again in their lunchroom, it’s possible all are planning for future reunions.

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