Special project for special kids

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MCHS to create a "transitional suite" for special needs students

By Stevie Lowery

Marion County High School Principal Stacey Hall is empathetic to students with special needs and their parents.

After all, he has firsthand experience.

His 14-year-old son, Logan, has autism and is completely non-verbal.

"Being a parent is hard enough, but being a parent of a special needs child maximizes that pressure 100-fold," Hall said.

Hall's son will be attending Marion County High School next year, and with that in mind, he's started a new project that will not only benefit Logan but also many other special needs children throughout the county.

Currently, the high school is taking donations to create a real world "transitional suite" that will be used by the high school's functionally and mentally disabled students.

The area will consist of a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, classroom library and technology center. Its purpose will be to provide educational and real life experiences and enable the students to become more independent. They will learn basic skills such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

Hall said he realizes that his son will never be able to live on his own, and might never speak. But, he wants his son to gain as much independence as possible.

"I'd give anything to hear my son say 'daddy' or 'I love you'... And I haven't given up on that," Hall said. "But, I've had to change my frame of thinking. I just really want him to have some independence."

According to Hall, there are 143 students in the special education program at MCHS this year, and at least 10 of them are functionally and/or mentally disabled.

Stephanie Nalley, FMD/special needs teacher at MCHS, said the transitional suite will help these students become productive and independent members of the community.

"The transitional suite will be the link between special education students and life after high school," she said. "Basic life skills will be incorporated into their educational curriculum in order to create a well-rounded, academically sound and independent student."

According to Hall, high schools in Nelson and Washington counties have similar facilities to this, and he's hoping MCHS can have its facility 100 percent complete by 2013.

So far, a group of students in Greg Conley's Project Lead The Way class have designed what the room will look like and what it will include. And, students in Danny Taylor's carpentry class are making the cabinets that will go in the kitchen area of the facility.

"This is the epitome of a full collaboration project," Conley said.

Conley said his students spent several days talking about the types of kids that would benefit from the facility and what type of equipment was needed.

"Not only did they learn about engineering from this project but they got another viewpoint about a specific type of child that needs this," Conley said.

The facility will include various therapy items, including a lifting table, which costs approximately $5,000, so the high school is relying on the community and local businesses to support this project, Hall said. So far, approximately $2,000 has been donated.

"It's a worthwhile project. And it's local," he said. "It will benefit local kids."

Anyone that wants to help out by donating supplies, money or their time can reach Stacey Hall or Stephanie Nalley by email, stacey.hall@marion.kyschools.us, stephanie.nalley@marion.kyschools.us, or at the high school by calling (270) 692-6066.