The Burris Life Skills Apartment: Setting Students Up for Success

October 28, 2019

This year marks the first full year of use for the life skills apartment, a simulated learning environment at Burris used to teach independent learning skills. Rhonda Cunningham, Director of Special Education for Burris Laboratory School, had the idea to create an apartment after the smells from teaching cooking skills in the classroom became too big a distraction and learning Burris’ old home economics room was going unused. Cooking is a large part of special education curriculum, and securing the funding for an apartment in the school expanded Burris’ capacity to develop necessary life skills.

The life skills apartment features a full kitchen, including a refrigerator, stove, sink, and dish washer, a living room, a bedroom complete with a bed and dresser, and a washing machine and dryer. Students use the apartment to garner the independent living skills they will need after they graduate, but may not normally receive. These skills include food and kitchen safety, laundry, budgeting, scheduling, and various independent living skills that many others take for granted.

“This is [their] apartment. They have to clean, they have to know what kind of products to use, how to do laundry so they can take care of themselves,” said Mrs. Cunningham. Students will, “Strip the bed, and make the bed. [The apartment has] a dresser full of clothes, so they pull the clothes, wash them, dry them, fold them, and put them back.” Starting the first full week of November, the students will be running a full-fledged, for-profit laundry business for the whole school. Students have scheduled the work, and will be calculating the wages of all of the workers in order to get their salary.

The most important use of the apartment, however, is the social skills students can learn while in that environment. Mrs. Cunningham says the best part about the apartment is that the students, “Forget their surroundings. When food gets involved, it’s amazing what you hear them talk about. Their defenses are down, they’re not guarded, they don’t worry. When you walk in that room, and that door closes, it’s a safe zone.”

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