At the Watson Institute, students with special needs learn academic and developmental skills to help them reach their individualized goals. Social and emotional learning are also important skill sets incorporated into students’ daily classroom activities. Feelings such as empathy, compassion, and generosity are taught by example through philanthropic activities.
Students in Gabrielle Sikora’s Life Skills classroom at the Education Center Sewickley engage in a variety of such activities throughout the school year. In the spring, students in Ms. Sikora’s classroom make items such as tug-of-war dog toys and bow ties for pets to raise money for local animal rescue organizations.
Every winter, the holiday spirit strikes Ms. Sikora’s classroom as the students put their creative talents to work and design holiday cards to be sold as a charity fundraiser.
Holiday Cards Help Children Experiencing Homelessness
Since 2011, students at the Watson Institute Education Center Sewickley have created holiday cards to sell as a fundraiser for the local charity organization, Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF). Each part of the process for this fundraiser helps students work on functional and vocational skills, from the initial design stages to the shopping trip to purchase gifts for the children served by HCEF.
Starting in the fall, students in Ms. Sikora’s class begin putting together designs for the holiday cards. Her classroom consists of students between the ages of 15 to 21 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special needs. Students in this class are working on goals related to functional and vocational tasks, and community involvement which help increase their independence and prepare them for the transition to adulthood.
Ms. Sikora and her team of instructional aides and therapists work with the students to help them select designs and the materials needed to bring their design to life. Students are given structured choices throughout the process and are encouraged to use their creativity to showcase their abilities!
Not only are the students part of the initial design stage, they also help deliver the completed card orders to buyers around the school, working on functional learning skills (packaging, sorting, delivery, counting money, etc.) throughout the process!
Once the orders have been fulfilled and the money collected, the funds are then used to purchase gifts which are donated to children experiencing homelessness who are being supported by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF).
Students at the Watson Institute visit HCEF to deliver all of the gifts, which include educational games and books.
“I like the kids to drop off the gifts so they can see what their fundraiser has provided to others.” said Ms. Sikora.
This year, the holiday card fundraiser raised $300 to support HCEF!
Students with Special Needs Send Holiday Cheer to Military
This year for the first time, students with special needs at the Watson Institute decorated and wrote out holiday cards to send to military members stationed at Hickam Joint Base. Hickam is a joint Air Force and Army base located in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Holidays cards were distributed to each of the classrooms at the Watson Institute Education Center Sewickley in an effort to include as many students as possible in the project. Nearly 130 holiday cards were decorated and sent to the Hickam Joint Base to spread holiday cheer to the military members and their families stationed there!
Joan Rim, an instructional aide at the Education Center Sewickley, suggested Hickam Join Base because her daughter is stationed there with her husband, who is a Captain in the U.S. Army.
“The soldiers enjoy getting a piece of home during the holidays and they especially love getting the cards from our students because they understand how much thought goes into them.” said Ms. Rim of how pleased military personnel at the base were to receive the holiday cards.
The activity was such as success with the students and with the members of the military stationed in Pearl Harbor that they hope to do this again next holiday season.
Learn more about the Watson Institute Education Center Sewickley, a special education school for children ages 3 to 21. Interested in supporting Watson? Check out ways to give and positively impact the life of a child today!