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ESU-13’s LifeLink program uses LCE to prepare students for life on their own

LifeLink students Alena Kennedy and Eliazbeth Zuniga laugh as their instructors point out that none of the student panelists said they enjoyed doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom at the R-Pad, where they learn various independent life skills.

Originally published in Star Herald.

It’s that time of year where plans following senior year of high school are being looked at more and more closely by students, parents and schools. Students crave the independence and are looking for the best place for them to practice it.

However, some students might need a little extra help before going completely independent. That’s where ESU-13’s LifeLink program comes in.

LifeLink is a program of life skills, job coaching, education and community involvement all rolled into one for students of varying disabilities, typically aged 18-21.

ESU-13 held LifeLink Day on Wednesday, Feb. 9, to give prospective students, their parents and caregivers an idea of how LifeLink works and the benefits of the program.

The day began with a presentation from Diane Reinhardt, ESU-13 transition consultant, and a panel of current LifeLink students in the Harms Center on the campus of Western Nebraska Community College. Reinhardt went through each aspect of the program.

Beginning with regular curriculum, Reinhardt explained that students could take classes from a variety of topics, including finance and budgeting, health and wellness, vocational support, and self-advocacy and self-determination. These courses are a part of what is called the Scope and Sequence.

“They’ll just work through the Scope and Sequence,” Reinhardt said, “and sometimes if the student would happen to need a little bit more help on focusing on one class, they’ll let them work on that for a little bit longer before they move on to the next class.”

Pam Brezenski, ESU-13 director of special education, added that all instruction at LifeLink is evidence-based.
“All of our instruction and our courses are all planned based on the life-centered education curriculum, which is an evidence-based transition program from the Council for Exceptional Children,” she said. “So, we do purchase that, and all students work through that, but we also base our classes on that.”

Some of that instruction also includes life skills like how to take care of yourself in your own apartment. At least once a week, LifeLink students head over to what is called the R-Pad, an apartment unit at the old Summit Bible College apartments in Scottsbluff, to practice things like making grocery lists, preparing meals and cleaning the apartment with instructor Kathy Peters.

“We have (a) bunch of cooking and cleaning to do,” LifeLink student Alena Kennedy, who comes from Scottsbluff High School, said. “…So, we had a great time at the R-Pad, so Miss Peters does a great job. … We have so much fun down there.”

Reinhardt said, “It just gives them experience as to when they go out in the real world and have a place of their own.”

On top of the LifeLink instruction, students also have the opportunity to take courses in higher education through WNCC, as well as online classes through a website called Alison. While taking higher education courses is not a requirement to participate in the LifeLink program, Reinhardt said that the lower cost is a huge benefit that students should consider taking advantage of.

“Because high school students at WNCC — any high school student — gets half price tuition off the bat, so that is a great deal,” she said. “And then, we also have some scholarships available, which make the classes really affordable. … So, most of the time students are paying — gosh — I’d say $50 or under for college class, which is really good.”

The Alison courses aren’t necessarily to put toward a degree, but they are great for learning something new, from cooking to computer programing to biology. LifeLink student Mark Plog, from Hemingford High School, even took a Japanese course.

LifeLink students will also go through job coaching to get a part-time paid job at a place of interest. Job coach Sheila Heath helps the students build resumes, practice for interviews and do job searches to get them placed with partner places of work within the community. This year, students are employed at places that include Regional West Medical Center, Dairy Queen, West Nebraska Regional Airport, Twin Cities Development, Main Street Market and Platte Valley Bank.

“We take you; we transport you to your job,” Heath said. “The first year you’re here we’ll do all that and then we kind of try to fade out so that you can do it on your own.”

Reinhardt said, “We work at the student’s pace, but the ultimate goal is fading out, so at first you will probably (be) provided quite a bit of assistance as needed, and then gradually, as the student gets more comfortable in their position, she’ll (Heath) probably step back a little bit, and the goal is to get them as independent as possible.”

With that goal of independence in mind, each student’s schedule is different and individualized around what they want and what they need out of the program. Some students work more while others take more college courses. Some get more involved in community activities and others might need to spend a little more time in the classroom. It all depends on the student.

“In May we’ll start having those meetings to kind of talk about the plan because everybody’s different, because it’s individualized,” Brezenski said, “and so then at that meeting, that’s where everybody will discuss how it looks for each student.”

Following the presentation and panel discussion, prospective students and parents got to eat a free lunch at the WNCC campus cafeteria and then took a tour of the R-Pad.

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Posted:  18 February, 2022
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