Asking a teenager to take out the garbage or help cook dinner isn’t always the most pleasant experience for parents.
In Tara Rommel’s Life Skills class at Davenport West High School, the students are more than willing to pitch in around the house. Thursday was no exception.
The group of seven students and their teachers gathered at the Life Skills house on 36th Street to prepare a traditional holiday dinner complete with a turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, corn, rolls and juice.
West’s Life Skills program teaches special education students practical, daily living skills. The Davenport Community School District has similar Life Skills programs in each of the high schools and at the elementary and intermediate school levels.
Rommel helped Alison Atkins, 17, measure water and boil it on the stove for the stuffing. Once the water was boiling, 16-year-old Nathan Long stepped in and poured a bag of stuffing into the pot.
Job coordinator Adam Edstrom encouraged Nathan to quickly stir the stuffing as it hardened.
“You’ve gotta get into it,” Edstrom said as he placed a hand over Nathan’s to help him stir the pot.
In the other room, Kennedy Imming, 16, and Tammra Shade, 17, placed a fork next to each place setting at the table that was covered with a long, green plastic table cloth. Fourteen-year-old Spencer Speights stood nearby and supervised.
Other students lounged on the sofa and watched a movie until it was their turn to pitch in with the meal preparation.
Program coordinator Amy Clayton said the goal of the program is to help students with whatever skills they need, whether they live eventually live on their own, with family or in a group home.
In the classroom, the students have lessons in social studies, communications and English and math.
In math, students learn how to handle money, for example, at the grocery store or a restaurant. To prepare for those situations, students role play with Rommel and the paraeducators to cut down on anxiety.
Rommel said the outings also help the students practice their social skills and communicate and “represent our classroom well.”
Students also read and, for a student who is non-verbal, learn sign language so that the group can communicate, Rommel said.
Students also have daily duties, such as watering plants, sweeping or wiping down tables.
Every other week, the students head over to the life skills house to put their new skills into action. They learn how to do laundry, wash and dry dishes, set the table, vacuum, dust, take out the garbage and cook.
Students also have participated in several fundraising. Before Thursday’s meal, they put together packets of hot chocolate with a Falcon mug for their latest fundraiser.
Clayton said the class size is lower to make sure that all students will have their needs met.
The class also has two paraeducators to assist Rommel.
Rommel said the class is a pretty tight-knit group.
“It’s like a family,” she said. “We get along so well and support each other. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”
Thursday’s meal wasn’t just about celebrating the holiday. The class recently won a blue “Best in Show” ribbon for a tree students entered into the annual Festival of Trees.
The tree was made with four strands of lights woven around a wire cage and decorated with pastel-colored hand-painted ornaments and a big colorful bow on top to fit this year’s theme, “Making Spirits Bright.”
The students have entered trees that have won ribbons over the last few years.
The tree now sits in the corner of the living room at the Like Skills house.
Once the meal was over, Tammra and 17-year-old Eric Flowers washed the dishes.
Eric said his favorite part of the class is reading.
Shawna Rickets, 16, said she and some of the other girls in the class like to get together at the house and dance and sing to the soundtrack from “High School Musical.”
Nathan said the task he liked best is vacuuming, which is something he does at home.
Although she’s taught in the district for seven years, this is the first year Rommel has taught the Life Skills class at West.
Rommel said she is learning a lot from her students.
“To have students enjoy coming to class and just being able to give them an opportunity to grow and learn and have fun, it’s just a wonderful thing,” she said.