Young adults with learning disabilities gain independence



Student shows off his final exam project, steak and potatoes, for a nutrition course.
DSCN2574Photo courtesy of the Horizons School
Ceri-Lune Renneboog
Metro Reporter
cerilune@uab.edu



Laura Vines has taught at the Horizons School for six years, teaching the importance of nutrition and meal planning, apartment living, time management and how to navigate public transportation.

Laura Vines has taught at the Horizons School for six years, teaching the importance of nutrition and meal planning, apartment living, time management and how to navigate public transportation.The school in downtown Birmingham is one of 15 schools in the nation to offer young adults with learning disabilities a comprehensive program to establish social, academic and professional independence.

“There is no such thing as an average day,” Vines said of the student experience at Horizons School.Horizons School provides an alternative to dependent living and traditional educational systems. Through providing them with the confidence to build social relationships and to secure jobs and start a career path, they are empowered to claim independence within their lives.

Horizons’ curriculum focuses on four core values: personal independence, social independence, career independence and self-determination. The school’s prerogative is for graduates to live either fully or semi-independently.Students spend time “learning daily living skills [such as] how to budget their expenses, how to maintain levels of hygiene at home and how to cook healthy and nutritional meals,” said Katie Cusimano, the school’s student recruiter and financial aid coordinator.

Cusimano said that while there are many “similar programs popping up geared toward the same population, the difference between what [Horizons does] and what other programs do is that [they] focus much more on real world applications rather than providing [their] students with a college experience.”The facility, located in Five Points South, offers students a culturally inclusive experience and exposure to music, art and a multitude of culinary cuisines.Students live “on campus” in a residential building owned by the school.

They have roommates and participate in class activities at their homes and around the community.With an average of four to six students per classroom, teachers have a chance to focus on each student and to cater specifically to their needs.According to the Department of Education, autism, attention deficit disorder, mild forms of cerebral palsy and other developmental difficulties affect between 5 – 10 percent of students in the American educational system.

The school hosted their second annual Healthy Hearts for Horizons Fundraiser, Friday, April 13. Students worked with chefs from Taziki’s restaurant and Jefferson State Community College’s culinary department to create and serve appetizers to family, friends and guests.Students participated in a friendly competition in which guests and judges evaluated appetizers and awarded prizes.Each year, the fundraiser goes toward students’ tuition and aims to raise awareness of the school and its students.
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