This past week, Cypress Bay High School’s teachers in the Personal Skills class which is funded by the HDS Foundation put together its first “Parent Information Night” for the parents of students in the Personal Skills class as well as other parents from prior year programs whose teenagers have social skill deficits. The event was not only well attended, it was also well received by all who were there.
Various groups presented to the parents, including Dan Marino Campus, HAAPE, College Living Experience (CLE), and Pediatric Psychology Associates. Representing the Dan Marino Campus and Dan Marino Foundation was Nick Valvano and Susan Morantes. They shared a lot of details regarding the types of certifications available at both the Marino Campuses which are located in Broward and Miami-Dade. The attendees also learned about VITA, the software program young adults have the opportunity to use to practice their interviewing skills. One of the graduates from Dan Marino Campus, Spencer Cohen, spoke with the parents about his experience going through the program.
Ike Grapin, the student president of HAAPE at CBHS, along with Larry Rothman, Edgardo Santiago and Maria Jacobo, explained HAAPE’s programs they are starting in conjunction with United Community Options (used to be UCP) of South Florida. The goal of HAAPE is to help young adults with Autism be successful in the workplace.
Kelly Miller-Alvarez spoke on behalf of College Living Experience (CLE) to explain to the parents the supports that are available for individuals after they complete high school, whether they are attending a technical program or a full-fledged university in the area. She explained that limited services are supported through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR); and the staff at CLE works with its families to try to get tutoring especially before exams, since this seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for the students in college who participate in CLE.
The highlight of the evening was Drs. Nick Maccarrone and Amanda Strunin from Pediatric Psychology Associates who both spoke on the topic of relationships – from friendships to dating. They both provided some great insight in how individuals with developmental disabilities often misunderstand friendly gestures to mean more than they are intended. With the use of visuals of a friendship pyramid, parents were able to gain a better understanding of why their teenage child may struggle more than neurotypical peers in developing romantic relationships. For example, individuals need to be explicitly taught the difference between an acquaintance, evolving friendship, and a best friend.
At the Parent Information Night, Bonnie Schmidt from ScentsAbility, a micro-enterprise for individuals with developmental disabilities, had a vendor table in the room selling candles and some of the company’s other amazing products. Claudia Guerios, the chef-owner of Pirate Republic, provided delectable refreshments ranging from sandwiches to quinoa for all the guests. There was even plenty of leftovers because of her generosity!
The teachers of the Personal Skills class go above and beyond for their students. This has not gone unnoticed by the school’s ESE Department administrator Kassandra Fried who came to support the event. The feedback from the parents was all positive. The parents also enjoyed the tech-friendly tools that HDS Foundation dropped off at the event for everyone.
On Thursday, November 16th, Housing and Development Software held their annual HDS Thanksgiving Potluck at the Bonaventure Town Center Club in Weston. Employees each brought a dish and were asked that it be something that represented their culture. Cuba, Spain, Israel, and other countries were all present with their culinary confections. There was an array of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts, but HDS would never forget to include the American traditional turkey and pumpkin pie. A fun time was had by all, and bellies left the event full to the brim.
Though Cristina Gilson, CEO of HDS, could not be with the group in person, she was definitely there in spirit. She charitably gave all HDS employees a beautiful note about Thanksgiving along with a thoughtful and generous gift. Paloma Miranda, VP of Services and Program Management for eHousing, helped kick off the event, talking about what we should be thankful for. Abdul Mondol, President of HDS, also spoke on a personal level of what Thanksgiving means to him. Newer employees were then encouraged to stand at the front and introduce themselves to the rest of the staff. Many co-workers went from being only a small picture on a Skype screen into a real, live person.
Carla Otiniano, Program Manager of the HDS Foundation, had a chance to speak with the group about this 501c3 non-profit organization. For more than 10 years, the HDS Foundation has provided mentoring services and opportunities to teens and young adult who have autism related disabilities. In January, the HDS Foundation will be participating in the 2018 Dan Marino Foundation Walkabout Autism at Hard Rock Stadium. Since 2011, over 180 schools and organizations have benefited from the almost 4 million dollars raised by DMF Walkabout Teams and sponsors. Carla went on to explain how each employee could be a part of this fundraising opportunity by either making financial contributions or joining the team, the HDS Contenders, at the event. HDS always finds ways to support Autism programs throughout the community. They proudly accept interns who are on the Autism Spectrum. Nico, a current intern who is affected by Autism Asperger Syndrome, has been interning for HDS since June of this year. He partook in the festivities at the HDS Thanksgiving Potluck, dancing and mingling with the other employees. After all, he is part of the family.
If you would like to support the HDS Contenders at the Walkabout, please go to: http://myhds.co/hdswalkabout There you can join the team or make a monetary contribution. Help support the HDS Foundation. Mentoring. Achieving. Living.
This year’s Halloween party for the students in Cypress Bay High School’s Personal Skills class took place on Saturday October 28, 2017. Once again, Tarantella Ristorante and Pizzeria in Weston Town Center welcomed every one of the guests and reserved the private room in the back of its restaurant just for our party. At this juncture in the year, it is exciting to see how well the students are beginning to progress in all areas of the program from budgeting all the way to social skill development.
The students, teachers, and volunteers all came dressed in costumes and ready to have a good time. There were vampires, doctors, witches, hippies, and even Waldo! Everyone’s costume was unique and added to the spirit of the 3rd annual Halloween dinner party.
The room was buzzing with conversations as everyone socialized with each other. Every person had the opportunity to order from Tarantella’s menu and use his own ATM card (funds from the BRIDGES grant) to pay for dinner at the end of the party. Prior to the checks coming to the table, the students were reminded how to calculate the tip (multiply by .20). A few students needed some assistance with their bill, but the teachers and volunteers were right there to offer explicit instruction to explain how to do this task correctly.
By participating in activities such as this one at Tarantella Ristorante and Pizzeria, the students in the Personal Skills class are not just attending the annual Halloween party, they are also gaining more practice interacting with restaurant personnel, problem solving, understanding tipping, and improving social skills. While most high school students look forward to attending group functions, the students in this class are typically apprehensive about the whole experience. With more opportunities to practice these skills most take for granted, the students in the Personal Skills class will develop more confidence and hopefully generalize their learning outside of the program.
When my kids were in high school, they would meet up with their friends for an ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery near Cypress Bay High School in Weston, FL. They used their own ATM cards which had money from either part time jobs or their allowance for weekly chores. Checking their receipts for accuracy or understanding the concept of sales tax was taken for granted by them as well as by me.
The students in this year’s BRIDGES class, funded by the HDS Foundation, work on these specific skills on a constant basis. Their accounts are funded by the foundation to make it possible for the students to go off campus to work on their socialization, communication, and life skills. On November 1, 2017, the students in this program boarded the bus for a field trip to Cold Stones for ice cream. Each student ordered his ice cream and paid for it with his individual debit card.
Prior to the trip, the teachers of the personal skills class provided lessons and discussion to maximize the success of the off-campus lesson. While at Cold Stones, the students only required minimal prompting to stay on task. The class as a whole did a reflection about the group’s success after the trip. Once back at Cypress Bay High School, the students also continued to work on tax computation, check the accuracy of their receipts, and furthered their understanding of the concept of sales tax.
Next time you take your child to go buy an ice cream, think about how some individuals actually need to learn many soft and hard skills to do just that. From the communication skills to the math skills, buying an ice cream can be a bit taxing for a student with a developmental disability or a social skills deficit.
For the students in the BRIDGES Personal Skills class, learning takes place off campus more than it does on campus. On October 18th, the students engaged in a number of team building activities, where they had to ask and answer questions about their classmates. According to the teachers the most challenging activity was finding out the name of the classmate posted on their back. They were given four descriptive clues from their fellow classmates in order for them to guess who it was. Many of the clues made it easy for them to determine who was posted on their backs. Others were more challenging but encouraged them to work together to be able to figure it out. Prior to the field trip to Regional Park, the teachers provided instructions on the task that was ahead. This helped insure minimal prompting to stay on task during the trip and reflecting about the group’s success after the trip. The students brought their lunches to the park and had the opportunity to engage in conversations with classmates while enjoying a picnic lunch at the park. These types of opportunities to develop communication skills and team building skills are what sets Building BRIDGES at the Bay apart from other high school programs for students with social skills deficits. Their next exciting trip the students are looking forward to is their Halloween dinner party at Tarantella Ristorante.
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