The average person often takes so many things for granted — being able to tie their shoes, wash their clothes, or count back change. Yet for some, like Stephanie Woodcock, a special education teacher at Union High School, it’s those little things that make all the difference in the world — for her, as well as for her students.
Enter the Learning for Life Champions program, a program directed toward special needs students in classrooms all over Sampson County. The Sampson County Champions program, of which Woodcock is president, is a program provided to the schools by the Boy Scouts. It is what Woodcock describes as a bridge between early skills and daily life skills for sometimes vulnerable students.
“The program includes wonderful activities,” began Woodcock in a recent interview. She explains that the program goes beyond the Common Core, which is the standard for students in the state, to assist special needs students with the school system.
“This is not the Common Core,” acknowledged Woodcock, in her 11th year teaching at UHS. “It’s an extended Common Core curriculum.” The supplemental program goes hand in hand with state standards, she added.
“We don’t have traditional textbooks,” she added, detailing further that the program with the Boy Scouts, called Learning for Life, is appropriate for all ages of students in classrooms with special needs. The program comes with completion charts and stickers, which the students are allowed to apply once a lesson unit is finished.
The Champions Daily Living Skills program covers everything from safety, parts of the body, grooming, clothing care, dressing and other daily activities.
“All the schools in Sampson County participate except one, that schools does not have a student at the level of needing the program,” Woodcock volunteered. The program currently serves approximately 200 children in the county and city schools.
Monthly meetings are also hosted by school districts, on a rotation, so students have a chance to gather and participate in a Boy Scout-style gathering as well as learn about a topic from one of the units in the Champions Daily Living Skills book.
“We still do Boy Scout stuff at these meetings, things like the Pledge of Allegiance and roll call,” said Woodcock.
“We teach from one of the units at the meetings,” she explained. “The last meeting we had was Feb. 7 at Hobbton High School. We taught about tolerance and accepting people that are different. We also did a lesson on sign language.”
Woodcock said the Sampson County Civitans are a big supporter of this program, noting that the civic group does a lot for the program and students. For example, she pointed out, back in October the students went to a special needs day at camp. The summer camp style event included activities designed for the students as well as a hay ride, which Woodcock said was something that they really enjoyed.
“I knew in high school I wanted to work with special needs (students),” divulged Woodcock. “A lot of people say they don’t have the patience (to do it) but I realized you just have to use a different avenue to get there.”
Sometimes that avenue is not a traditional one, or one that is normally used with high school-age students, like using rock and learn videos that have material put to music.
“Music brings out the best in them,” said Woodcock. “They love music and they love to sing.” The students also participate in dance class once a week, and will also be going to a dance sponsored by the Civitans, she added.
“It’s just the sweetest thing ever,” she marveled. “It is the small things they do that we celebrate. My kids are so innocent and not disrespectful. They have that innocence that I love.”
One of those things that started out as a small thing yet ended up becoming something really big for her students was work with technology. This year she has been working on incorporating it into her classroom for her students, using iPads. It started with one iPad her mom bought her, and it has grown from that into six.
Some of her students who were having a hard time writing are now able to use the iPads to write and communicate more, she said.
“I was blown away,” she attested, excitement climbing in her voice. “I want to find a way to make each child learn. It’s important to try different stuff with them.”
Trying different activities and exposing the students to new situations assists with enhancing their education and quality of life, the Union teacher stressed. A typical day in the special needs classroom starts with morning writing assignments, with a focus on capitalization and punctuation, for example.
“I started working on sentences first, but they are better at writing paragraphs,” she said she discovered.
After that, the class might move on to spelling and from there to an early lunch. Occasionally they will watch educational programming through VBrick, which is brought to the classroom through Sampson County Schools, with shows streaming into the classroom from a projector.
“We have watched the Price is Right to learn about money,” she said. “It helps them with math.” Often the students alternate between science and social studies, she added.
“We use Weekly Readers,” Woodcock said. “The students are excited to read (them). They argue over who will read next.” The class also participates in cooking for days like their monthly birthday celebrations. Woodcock said that her class even made aprons. Menu items for these events include spaghetti, hot dogs, cookies and cakes.
“These programs help provide for life outside the schools,” Woodcock added. “A few may be able to get a job, but they have to be taught.” Items like safety, grooming, nutrition, and wellness are particularly important for these students.
“This curriculum is good for bridging the gap,” Woodcock stated. The gap she describes is the gap between early education, such as in elementary school, for things like math and reading versus daily living skills like washing their own laundry or paying for a meal at a restaurant. Activities like washing and drying uniforms from the school’s sports teams helps with that process.
“They have to learn how to wash, dry and sort clothes,” she pointed out.
These students have to be given instruction on doing items like those, from the very basics like how much something costs to using table manners.
“I love my job,” affirmed Woodcock. “I definitely consider it very rewarding.”
Woodcock is the president and treasurer of the Sampson County Champions program, and she graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a BA in Special Education. She currently teaches at Union High School, and can be reached by calling the school at 910-532-6300.