These are the words of Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation Teacher Dayna Lunkenheimer, as she welcomed students, staff and families to tour the new Independent Living Lab at CiTi’s Fourth Street School.
As the pandemic hit and the educational community switched to virtual and hybrid learning environments, teachers had to work more closely with parents than ever before. During that time, Lunkenheimer and her colleagues listened. They listened as parents spoke of their children’s needs, one of which being the need for development of life skills.
The staff got together to share ideas of how to create different opportunities for their students, real-world experiences and skills to promote their independence.
CiTi’s Independent Living Lab is a space that allows for students to learn, practice and apply the skills they have acquired to promote individual growth and independence to carry with them in school, home and their community. The room resembles an apartment, where students learn basic life skills like doing laundry, making a bed, washing dishes and performing general cleaning.
The room would not have been possible without the work of Pulaski Academy & Central School District senior Elaina Derr, sister of Jared, who attends CiTi’s A+ program.
As part of her senior project, Derr coordinated a 5K run/walk called “Every Piece Counts” to raise money for the life skills room. The funds helped to purchase furnishings, equipment and materials.
Lunkenheimer shared a presentation including photos of the students practicing their daily living skills before providing a tour of the Independent Living Lab.
“Sometimes life is bigger than we are,” she said, tearing up. “And we just don’t know it until we get the opportunity like the one we have been given here. Sometimes it’s about more than the academics. It’s about the relationships we make, how we make a difference every day for others. For us as educators, it’s about where can we meet our students and where can we take them.”
Following the presentation, Derr was called to the stage to receive a thank-you note from the CiTi students. One by one, the students, including her very own brother, came up and presented a flower of gratitude.