Unique JHMS program prepares these kids for the real world

(Jackson, Wyo.) - Every Wednesday, Raul and Ryan deliver newspapers to the rooms of teachers who subscribed at the beginning of the year. Jax handles the recycling for the classrooms and knows the ins and outs of what is recyclable and where each item goes. A group of kids sell coffee and pastries each Friday. In this unique Life Skills program at Jackson Hole Middle School, each kid has a job, responsibilities and earns money in preparation for the future. The Life Skills program was started in 2001 by Connell Hughes. The goal of the program is to help special needs kids learn and develop the skills that they will need to gain independence in adulthood, including getting a job and an apartment. [image: Inline image 1] Shane Braman, or “Coach” as many refer to him, now runs the program 15 years after he was a paraprofessional in Hughes' first Life Skills class. Coach explained that Hughes started the program once the population of special needs kids started to grow in Teton County. She had several years of experience from teaching special education in Texas prior to moving to Jackson. For the Life Skills Program, each child has a customized education plan based on their needs. Some spend 80 percent of their time with the rest of the students in class and 20 percent of their time in the Life Skills classes, while others spend the majority of time in Life Skills classes with a smaller percent of their time in classes with the other students. [image: Inline image 2] During their time in the Life Skills program, each kid has a job, makes money and is able to spend that money how they wish. They do jobs like sell coffee and pastries, collect recycling, deliver newspapers, serve pizza, do dishes, make and sell cards, and more. Local shops like the hospital gift shop sell the cards and 100 percent goes back to the kids in the program. "They are getting real money, they are getting paid, they have a job, they are learning responsibility, they are learning currency, they have piggy banks and we get to go spend the money that they earned," Coach added. They move on to a similar program in high school, then there is a transition person who helps them move into the workforce. According to Coach, the biggest challenge for these kids is employment and housing. “An important piece that I am very passionate about is the disconnect between the district -- we create a safe environment and an amazing environment for them with resources to learn, grow and work on these skills -- and their needs as adults," said Coach. "That is the biggest gap we have." Now, the first group of Life Skills kids are in their mid-20s and are all employed. Many of them work at Vertical Harvest. But Coach is still working to educate the community and employers on these special kids. The solution is raising awareness about the their capabilities. "I would hope that this article lets people know that we have a large population in this town, that many people are unaware of, who need jobs and housing," Coach added. [image: Inline image 3] *Feature Photo: Jax smiles as he takes out the recycling at JHMS.