Every piece counts; Collaboration and community come together for new Independent Living Lab at CiTi BOCES Fourth Street School – Oswego County Today

Elaina Derr (left) receives a flower and thanks from CiTi students, including her brother Jared (right). Photo courtesy of CiTi BOCES.

OSWSEGO COUNTY – Big things often have small beginnings –

Those are the words of Dayna Lunkenheimer, a teacher at the Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation, as she welcomed students, staff and families to tour the new Independent Living Lab at Fourth Street School in CiTi.

As the pandemic hit and the education community shifted to virtual and hybrid learning environments, teachers had to work more closely with parents than ever before.

Meanwhile, Lunkenheimer and his colleagues listened. They listened to parents talk about their children’s needs, including the need to develop life skills.

Staff came together to share ideas on how to create different opportunities for their students, real-world experiences and

: CiTi Fourth Street School unveils Independent Living Lab for students with autism. Photo courtesy of CiTi BOCES.

skills to promote their autonomy.

CiTi’s Independent Living Lab is a space for students to learn, practice and apply the skills they have learned to promote individual growth and independence to take with them to school, home and in their community.

The room resembles an apartment, where students learn basic skills like doing laundry, making a bed, washing dishes and general cleaning.

The hall would not have been possible without the work of Pulaski Academy & Central School District senior Elaina Derr, sister of Jared, who attends CiTi’s A+ program.

As part of his senior project, Derr coordinated a 5k run/walk titled “Every Piece Counts” to raise money for the Life Skills Hall. The funds were used to purchase furniture, equipment and materials.

Lunkenheimer shared a presentation including photos of the students practicing their daily living skills before taking a tour of the independent living lab.

“Sometimes life is bigger than us,” Lunkenheimer said, in tears. “And we don’t know that until we’ve had an opportunity like the one we’ve been given here. Sometimes it’s more than academics. It’s about the relationships we build, how we make a difference to others every day. For us as educators, it’s about knowing where to meet our students and where to take them.

After the presentation, Derr was called on stage to receive a thank you note from CiTi students. One by one, the students, including her own brother, came and presented a flower of gratitude.

Norma A. Roth