‘More than education’

Exceptional needs program prepares students for future


Tabby Fitzgerald

Junior Daniel McDonald takes out the trash during second lunch on Thursday, March 8.

Tabby Fitzgerald, Reporter

From sweeping the left-behind trash of forgetful students to wiping the food crumbs off of dirty tables, various students from the exceptional needs department spend some of their time giving an extra set of hands to the custodians during lunch.

By volunteering, these select students are taught lifelong skills that can benefit their future.

“They needed more than education,” exceptional needs teacher Jody Egan said. “They need more hands on.”

Egan has been teaching for 16 years. She initially went to college for Elementary School Education. After that, she was a substitute teacher for two years and watched as the exceptional needs department at Perry Meridian High School went through three different teachers. She decided to apply for the position, got the job and then went back to school for Special Education.

13 out of her 16 years teaching were spent at PMHS. However, two years ago, she transferred to SHS to start the program to allow students who lived closer to attend their “home school.” The program, Comprehensive Intervention Program, consists of teaching students in the exceptional needs department how to function in the real world, how to tell the difference between right and wrong and how to utilize life skills such as responsibility.

The program tries to get them out of the classroom and the building at least once a week. Egan hopes that they will be able to build valuable life skills along with a résumé to help give a future job coach ideas as to what they are interested in when they graduate.

Mary Beth Hanley, SHS’ job coach, helps the department set up places to volunteer such as Very Special Arts, a nonprofit organization. After high school, students get in touch with a new job coach from Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Like the students future job coach, Hanley helps them fill out applications to places such as Kroger.

Recently, students went with Hanley to St. Vincent de Paul, a local charitable organization. While there, they practiced and applied skills such as counting.

“(It’s important so that) they can be productive citizens, and they can feel good about themselves being productive,” Hanley said. “Instead of sitting (at) home, they’re out working and (being) a part of the community.”

Not only could one find them volunteering in the SHS cafeteria and St. Vincent de Paul, but also at Gleaners food bank, PTEC preschool classrooms, the V.A. hospital and Teachers’ Treasures, “a free store for teachers.”

However, in order to volunteer, students had to pitch their skills first. After getting these places interested in letting them help, they had to show them “what they were made of.”

“We had to be salesmen,” Egan said. “(We had to) go out and just ask and see if there was anyway we could volunteer.”

Custodian Sherry Henry was excited when first finding out that the exceptional needs students would be helping out in the cafeteria. Henry has a handicapped nephew, which helps give her a better understanding of students with exceptional needs.

Sometimes, Henry brings in snacks for the students to brighten their day. She is also very glad to have the extra hands around the cafeteria. She says she enjoys her conversations with the students and their presence.

“It’s sunshine, and it just brightens up my day whenever they’re around,” Henry said.

Every day during lunch, junior Daniel McDonald, along with other students from the exceptional needs department, volunteers in the cafeteria. McDonald takes out the trash and wipes down tables throughout the lunch hour.

“It gets the job done,” McDonald said. “(It helps) learning for life …(by knowing how to) rent a home, do something or (do) chores.”

According to Egan, the students get to choose from a variety of incentives for helping out. This includes getting to play the Wii, cooking, having free time to draw or even getting to use the 3D printer.

“I want people to know that we’re not abusing them or taking advantage of them,” Egan said.

Daniel Loichinger and his sister Roseanna Loichinger, another former student of Egan’s, have been positively influenced by the program. Both were involved with different volunteer opportunities because of Egan.

According to David Loichinger, their father, the program helped Roseanna get a job at Kroger, where she has been for the past 15 years and it has also shaped Daniel’s personality and work ethic.

Egan says that over the years she has stayed in touch with quite a few students, even some that she had during her first year of teaching. One of which recently asked her to be a bridesmaid in her wedding this June.

Two of her other previous students from PMHS have also reached out to her to tell that they really appreciate what the program did for them while in high school. Now, they both have jobs at a local dealership detailing cars.

The program has helped Egan and the students build relationships as well as networking and employability skills to use in life. According to McDonald, he is grateful for the opportunities he has been provided with.