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Sandy Journal

Jordan Valley adds café, studio apartment to teach students independent living skills

Oct 04, 2021 03:12PM ● By Julie Slama

At Jordan Valley, students learn how to make a bed, take care of clothes, and interact with their peers in a social setting in the school’s new classroom-turned studio apartment. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

At Jordan Valley School, special education teacher Carolyn West wholeheartedly supports the additions of a café and studio apartment at the school.

The transformed classrooms are designed to teach students and prepare them for transition into employment and independent living.

“This year has been incredibly productive with what we’re able to do with Café JarVis (which shares the same name as the school mascot) and the studio apartment,” West said. “It’s made such a huge difference.”

Jordan Valley serves students who have severe multiple disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders and syndromes, deaf–blindness and students who are extremely medically fragile. The goal at Jordan Valley School is to improve the quality of life for students, age five to 22, and their families.

These transitionary rooms are an example of how educators hope to improve their quality of life, said Principal Stacey Nofsinger.

For example, West and teacher Zeke Alexander rotate three groups of six fifth- to ninth-grade students from their classes through the rooms three times a week so they learn skills that will help them prepare for post-school living.

In Café JarVis, West will bring a group of students where they will first put on an apron, then learn to roll silverware in a cloth napkin, and finally, set the table. 

In the studio apartment, students may learn how to make a bed, put away their clothes and even sit down to play a game with their peers.

“These are skills that they may not necessarily have so it’s a great opportunity,” West said. “We’d eventually like to see them have an independent living situation and this helps prepare them to work, to have social skills, to be able to take care of their clothes and belongings.”

About six secondary classrooms use the room every day.

West said that “it takes a lot to build skills up, so we have a lot of repetition.”

Previously, the school only had the vocational lab, which is still available to classes. West said her class continues to use it periodically. There, students have a number of fine motor tasks, such as arranging silk flowers or sorting gift cards to put in hangers at stores. There also is a “grocery store,” which students pick out an item such as brownies, Jell-O, instant mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese to cook in their home economic time.

The new café and studio apartment were created over the summer by Nofsinger, her family, facilities staff, and others, who brought in a bed, clothes rack, couch, coffee table, dining room table, games, television, menus, silverware, bright-colored aprons and dishes and other items. To make the transition, Nofsinger said the school was able to use part of $25,000 from Land Trust and Teacher Student Success Plan funds.

“They can pop popcorn, sit on a sofa and watch a movie, play a game of checkers and learn appropriate interaction and afterward, clean up and vacuum,” she said. “In the café, they learn how to set and clear tables and do tasks. It’s giving them a chance to learn those skills to be able to transition into being able to take care of their living environment and be able to get some job in the community or be a helper at home.”

To help make the café more inviting a paraeducator created pictured menus that are on the walls and covered some brick classroom walls with butcher-paper windows. A student’s mother also is making awnings to add to the room.

West said that her students look forward to the experiences.

“It just opens up a world of opportunity to gain skills and they love hanging out in the studio apartment” and learning and sometimes, not even realizing it, she said.