A little blue house behind Waynesboro High School will now fulfill a big purpose for Waynesboro Public Schools’ and Augusta County Public Schools’ Post High Learning students.
The house, a collaboration between both school systems and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Program, will be the new site for the Post High Learning Lab.
“So we are dreaming big, and this is something that will set our school division apart from other school divisions in the state,” said Dr. Ryan Barber, Waynesboro Schools’ Director of Student Services at Tuesday’s meeting before the school board. “So this is real life. This is what kids are going to need to be doing after they leave the program at age 22.”
Students will have opportunities to learn “how to maintain a home environment,” such as changing a light bulb or air filter, food safety, vacuuming, washing dishes and doing laundry.
Five job coaches and two classroom teachers will be on site for the students as they also learn “soft skills that you and I take for granted,” Barber said. Students will learn personal hygiene, and how to present themselves at a job.
Students will check in and out daily at Waynesboro Schools’ newly renovated Career & Technical Education annex, in the former The News Virginian building at 1300 W. Main St., just across Poplar Avenue from the high school.
Barber said that previously the special education students from Waynesboro and Augusta County, ages 18 to 22, were placed in a classroom at Wilson Memorial High School. However, space permitted for only 20 to 25 students, including students with wheelchairs.
“They needed a bigger space,” he said.
Also, a site in Fishersville limited work opportunities for the students. At the Waynesboro site, the students will have access to local Waynesboro businesses.
Funding for the house does not come from the school system’s budget, but through partnerships in the community and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Program.
According to Barber, the Woman’s Club stepped up and offered to provide beds, kitchen utensils and much more for the house.
Barber said Maryann Cook of the Woman’s Club called and said: “Send the list to us. Our club is going to get all the things off the list.”
“Just one of the great pleasures I have [in my job], I get to work with these kids,” Barber said.
Barber said in an email statement Wednesday that one of the pleasures of his job “is to see students with disabilities develop self-advocacy, independent living skills, and gain employment opportunities in jobs of their choosing.”
In the coming weeks, an addition to the rear of the house is planned for kitchen space, and the current kitchen will be made into a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. Interior painting, electrical work and refinishing of the floors will be completed.
“It’s quite a community project, and it’s gotten considerably larger than we started with,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell at Tuesday’s meeting. “But it’s going to really provide life skills and independence living skills.”
Cassell said “there is a number of work sites” that will be available to the students in Waynesboro.
“We’re excited about, for our students, the partnership with the Regional Program,” Cassell said.
Augusta County Public Schools’ Director of Student Services Miranda Ball said that 17 students are enrolled for the 2019-2020 academic year in the program. The hope is to transfer the students from the Wilson Memorial High site to the Waynesboro site by the end of fall, perhaps in October.
“The point of the program is to continue to assist these individuals with functioning life skills,” said Ball.
Waynesboro’s Post High Learning Lab is made possible through partnerships with Nibco, United Way, Renewing Homes of Greater Augusta, the Woman’s Club of Waynesboro/Augusta County, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Brian Mininger from Bear Creek Construction, Nathan Trice who owns Pride Electric, LLC, Helmuth Builders, WHS Building Trades, City National Bank, Q & S Construction and Lowe’s of Waynesboro.