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Jefferson County opens post-secondary school for special needs students
December 22, 2017

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After many years of planning, Donna Leake's and Judy Burgess' dream has come to fruition. Jefferson County Schools opened Lally House, a post-secondary transition program for special needs students who are 18 to 21 years old. Lally House is located at 137 Lowery Lane, in Harpers Ferry, next to Blue Ridge Elementary School.

Lally House follows the West Virginia Community Readiness Guidelines. "We have transition, life-skills things," Burgess said. "Transition is a part of education that covers life skills, household skills, community readiness, vocational skills-things like that. Our ultimate goal is independence for them (students). Some of our students may not live independently, but they may live in group homes. We teach them how to manage their daily affairs."

Lally House currently has five students enrolled, with a sixth expected in January. Burgess says she sees no problem with reaching their maximum number of 8 students.

Even though Lally House just had its grand opening on Dec. 14, the students have been busy doing much of the heavy lifting to get the facility ready, including painting, cleaning, washing windows, removing debris and other chores.

The students plan menus for two weeks, shop and cook. All of the chores - such as cooking, mopping and scrubbing bathrooms - are rotated on a weekly basis. The students don't mind the chores because it fosters a feeling of ownership of the facility.

In addition to the chores, regular classes are held that teach reading and math skills.

"A typical day is where the kids get here at 8 a.m., and whoever is assigned to kitchen, we get started on breakfast," Burgess said. "The dishwasher is the assistant cook, so they work together for two weeks. After that, some go to their morning jobs. Some work elsewhere and some work here on campus, and others have instruction. They may run errands, depending on what the day is like. Lunch is the same; we have an afternoon shift."

Many who attended the open house were teachers, like Burgess, who have been working with special needs children in the county and were thrilled to see a facility like this open.

"We work with special needs kids in high school and we do as much as we can, but after high school is done, this is the next step," Burgess said. "It's important for them to use these life skills so they can be functional, like being able to read a prescription or knowing how to go to a pharmacy and turn a prescription in. How to make a doctor's appointment or get a haircut-all those things are so important for independence. It helps them gain confidence and stamina."

This is the first program of its kind in Jefferson County and organizers expect the program to grow, with an ultimate goal of seeing more of these post-secondary schools in the panhandle. A big challenge now, however is transportation. Burgess said the staff is communicating with the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority to help with availability of transportation to the school.

"I'm really proud of Jefferson County to step up and be the first county in West Virginia to offer a program like this," Burgess said. "We have the support of the community and teachers-people have donated so much of everything here."

Even though the program is up and running, the students still have housewarming wish list that includes items such as skillets, an iron and ironing board, a Smartboard for the classrooms, cooking aprons, a garden hose, bins with lids, construction paper and crayons. Anyone wishing to donate items or anyone with questions can call 304-724-9547 or email dleake@k12.wv.us or jkburgess@k12.wv.us.

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