A.C.T. teachers prepare students for life after LHS

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Photo by Emmitt Parece-Grogan

A.C.T program case managers and special ed. teachers Ronni Heard (left), Karen McDonald (middle) and Denise Gaspie (right) work hard to make sure their students feel prepared after leaving LHS.

Every morning students from the A.C.T. (Academic Career Training) Program sign into the classroom for a day of learning, activities, and trips. But it’s not just for fun, it’s for achieving new abilities and strengthening their minds. 

The A.C.T. program is all about helping students with learning disabilities gain the skills they need to be independent and succeed after high school.

Ronni Heard, a new special ed. teacher and case manager in the program said students in the program learn in a similar way to other students, “just at a different pace.”

“[We’re] training them to become independent,” Heard said. “That’s the whole message. There may be differences but y’all are equal, they just have a different path.”

Many of the students’ disabilities cause them to have difficulties projecting their voices and communicating throughout the day. Those students can speak into a special microphone that lights up once they speak loudly and clearly enough. This is just one of the many tools used to help prepare these students for independence.

They also sing and dance along to various videos. Some are used for movement, and some for memory, such as when the students sing and dance to a video to learn the days of the week. In the A.C.T. program, Heard says that when students engage in both sides of the brain – thinking and creativity – their ability to memorize things improves. 

“Often we only use one part of the brain and we don’t cross over the midline. When we do songs and dances it engages both sides at the same time,” Heard said. 

Denise Gaspie is another special ed. teacher and case manager. Her main goal is to help the kids “get out there” in the world. The students have different jobs and chores around the school that help prepare them for jobs in the real world.

Students may also learn skills at the Y.M.C.A., volunteer at food banks, or even take trips to the grocery store to learn how to go through a check out line and purchase groceries. Learning different functions and social skills is essential for their independence. 

“After senior-plus some of them get jobs, some of them volunteer,” Gaspie said. “We send them to adult services; different programs support them.”

Students who would like to be a part of the A.C.T. program can sign up for Best Buddies where regular students can pair up with one of their peers with I.D.D. (intellectual and developmental disabilities).

“It allows for a friendship to form and it’s very beneficial to both students,” Gaspie said. 

Students who want to be involved, but not be in a one-on-one pair can come to different meetings and activities such as “just dance parties”, board games, and lunch.

Gaspie is glad to be a part of the program.

“The kids make me enjoy it,” Gaspie said. “They’re happy, they love life, they’re hard workers – we’re kind of like a family.”

Gaspie has worked as a special education teacher and case manager for fourteen years and works with students for their whole time in highschool and even after their senior year. 

“They complete me,” Gaspie said. “And they remind me that life is good.”