Making dog treats helps students make self reliance
Helping students with special needs to become more self reliant is the idea behind the Dog Treats Project in the Somerset school special education department.
The project has quickly become successful in several ways. It has helped the students gain responsibility by doing all of the steps in the production of the dog treats. The students are also gaining satisfaction in their work, because the dog treats are selling well and they are continuing to produce more of the treats.
The idea was brought to Somerset by speech and language pathologist Laurie Lasure, who had seen it used in other districts. It was decided that the life skills class at the high school would make the treats.
"My focus was giving the kids functional learning possibilities," Lasure said. "We're looking to find more opportunities for kids to work or volunteer in the community to get more work experience."
The students do all of the stages of making the dog treats. They have a recipe to follow and they mix the dough, roll out the dough and cut out the treats. They apply an egg wash to give the treats a shiny coating. The students then bake the treats and sort and bag them once they have cooled. They also do all of the cleaning after each day's baking is completed.
After the first batches were completed, the students took the treats to different sites to be donated. They gave them to the Somerset Police Department, Somerset Township dog control, Somerset Animal Hospital and Gregory's Gift of Hope.
The dog treats are also being sold, which will help make this a self-sustaining project. The students have already baked more than 1,000 treats, making batches two or three times a week. A grant from Somerset Partners In Education (PIE), plus donations from Wal-Mart and Target helped get the program started. Anyone interested in purchasing dog treats can contact Lasure at the Somerset Middle School.
Lasure said there are five high school students who volunteer as peer mentors with the life skills students who have been invaluable in their work with the special needs students.
There are other ways the special needs students are getting out into the community. They volunteer at senior citizen apartments, helping with light housekeeping.
"They work hard wherever they are," Lasure said. "This gives me a chance to assess their speech and language skills in the community, rather than just in the school."
The students went to The Training Room for a water They learned aerobics class. They learned about healthy choices and a healthy diet during their visit.
Lasure said there are more activities of this sort planned to help the students get more interaction within the community.
Darren Kern, director of pupil services, said the School District is to continue to develop its transition program for special needs students ages 14 to 21. There are students with varying degrees of independence. Some will be able to live independently as adults while others will need supportive arrangements.
Kern said one of the keys is teaching these students "self advocacy skills." The students have learned skills to hold jobs, but sometimes they have difficulty conveying what they know. This effort helps the students to tell perspective employers about what skills they've learned.