A small group of students from the Fontainebleau high school with physical and cognitive disabilities entered the makeshift classroom apartment, accompanied by two instructors. Excited and smiling, the students greeted the adult staff as they walked past the handicapped-accessible front-loading washer and dryer, past the kitchen, and into the main living room where an adapted physical education lesson was to begin.

Checklists on the apartment-style classroom at Mandeville High School on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. The space is designed like an apartment to help students learn life chores such as washing clothes and cooking. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“Fitness doesn’t just stop after high school,” physical education coach Scott Cave told them. “You don’t just have to go to a gym, you can use the space around you.

Cave encouraged students to imagine what a healthy, fit lifestyle might look like after high school. “Let’s imagine this is your living space. What could you use around you for exercise?”

A student suggested weights, but Cave redirected his attention to space, demonstrating how to do a squat using only the couch.

The students in Cave’s group are among more than 300 people with cognitive and physical disabilities in public schools in St. Tammany Parish who spend part of their school days learning life skills in similar environments. to apartments at Mandeville Secondary School and in Slidell next to Brock Primary School.

living after high school

Called “Thrive”, the program uses the centers to provide learning opportunities that complement academic education, helping students prepare for an independent life. “In addition to the home life skills that they’re working on here, there’s also a training lab,” said Susan Munster, assistant superintendent of the St. Tammany Parish School District. “They can learn office work like filing or how to literate. They can learn how to operate a cash register. It’s a myriad of skills.”


Mandeville High School teacher Angie Dolese, back left, watches Karley Draper wash her hands before helping to bake cupcakes in a special education classroom on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. The space is designed as a apartment to help students learn the chores of life such as washing clothes and cooking. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

On the other side of a thin wall, teacher Chris Davenport gave a lesson in using a washing machine, telling students how clothes get dirty and why they need to be cleaned. He broke down each step of the washing process before leading the students to the kitchen.

“The most important thing is to clean the kitchen before you cook,” Davenport told the group as a student in a wheelchair maneuvered around him.

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“Excuse me, sir. I don’t want to step on your feet,” the student said, prompting Davenport to jokingly respond that it happens all the time.

cooking skills

Then a debate erupted over what to cook – French toast or peanut butter sandwiches.

Davenport demonstrated different cooking methods, ranging from stovetop to microwave, but one student thought there should be more options. “I love cooking in the air fryer!” He shouted.

“I think sometimes, as parents, we think kids get things by osmosis, because they’ve seen us do it so many times. But that’s really not the case,” Kerri Soo said. , Student District Director with exceptions.


Mandeville High School student Matthew Lorio laughs with his classmates as they wait for the cupcakes to come out of the oven on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. The special education classroom is designed as an apartment to help students learn about life tasks such as washing clothes and cooking. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The Thrive program was introduced a year ago, adding to a long list of services and resources within the ministry. The program’s start followed a year of remote learning that ended with a complaint against the school district to the state Department of Education. The complaint, filed by the Loyola Law Clinic and filed by the parent of a student with a disability, alleged that students with disabilities suffered large-scale learning loss due to inadequate instruction with distance learning during the pandemic.

An agreement that settled the complaint established guidelines on the eligibility of students with disabilities for additional learning opportunities. District officials said they have been working to recover learning loss since August 2020 through progress screenings and interventions.

In a video released on the school district’s broadcast network, a parent praised the impact of the Thrive program.

“I think practical application is important and helping them apply it in a normal setting. We all have to thrive to survive and that’s what these children need,” said Vera Chauhan.