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It's about independence at TLC

Four students from the Snoqualmie Valley School District Transition Learning Center sat around a table laughing, talking and having a good time before getting ready to head home at the end of the day. When asked to introduce themselves, two boys spoke at the same time. Both stopped - smiled and waited. Then Jerry Vanzant spoke up, "Hi, I'm Tom." He paused and the students burst into laughter. Tom Intemann laughed hardest, before they all collected themselves and made accurate introductions.

Being able to relax and have fun at the center, located next to Mount Si High School on Meadowbrook Way Southeast in Snoqualmie, is just one of the many ways in which the learning center is successful. The center - part of the state school system and funded by the district - provides a place where students needing extra help can learn life, vocational and leisure skills at the same time they are being encouraged to laugh and have fun. Students may begin after graduating from high school and leave by the time they turn 21. The center also helps students learn to access adults service agencies, such as the state's Department of Vocational Services and the Department of Developmentally Delayed.

While attending the center, students learn to be independent in many ways. First, they must find their own transportation to the center. Some get rides from their parents while others use the community shuttle. Once there, they learn cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, budgeting, how to do chores around the house, working skills, mealtime etiquette and many other skills depending on the day of the week.

"It's a program that shows us - people who have certain disabilities - how to get a job and live on our own," Intemann said. He feels better "able to be out there on my own. Being out there in the world is not as easy as it looks."

Vanzant isn't quite as upbeat about the program. "It's OK, but I'd rather do something more advanced. I'll be doing that next year."

He has gained something from the center, though. "I've already got a job, working at the North Bend Burger King, but it helped me handle it a little better. [Learning center instructors] teach me how to cook - I've been doing that at home, too - and helped me learn to budget. I already have a bank account."

The students work on a little bit of everything - from job skills to manners - in the program. Mondays are usually filled with learning computer skills, talking with the district psychologist and working on special projects such as making place mats for a Thanksgiving feast. Tuesdays are for grocery shopping and field trips. Wednesdays, the students' favorite day of the week, are cooking days. Using food purchased Tuesday, one student works with a teacher to cook a meal and the others clean up. The students usually invite guests from the community and school district to join them.


To prepare for these meals, the students learned table manners, such as passing food platters around the table instead of reaching across, keeping their elbows off the table and waiting for everyone to sit before beginning to eat. As each student takes a turn cooking, the recipe used goes into a folder to be added to a cookbook, said Susan Main, TLC facilitator.

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the students made doughnuts from tubes of biscuit dough.

"We took the dough out of the package, then took one to two slices and put holes in them with bottle caps," said Vanzant, as he frosted one doughnut.

"We used the 'pokey-like teeth' on the bottom and twisted," Intemann added, using his hands to demonstrate the motions.

Later, Debi Fish worked with Ellen Keller, TLC coordinator, to cook stew for lunch. She was in charge of opening all the cans, combining the food in the pot and stirring. Fish enjoys cooking, and just about everything else about the center, she said.

"I didn't like it at first," Fish said. "But now I do. If we didn't come here, we probably wouldn't know how to do it." She's learned a lot about cooking and now can do laundry by herself, too.

Jessica Kitz wiped the table down as she talked to Fish and Keller and watched them cook. She, too, has learned a lot, she said.

"I know how to wash the dishes; how to eat healthy foods," Kitz said. "I try harder to eat vegetables. I learned how to weigh foods at the store."

Though living with their parents, both Kitz and Fish plan to move out eventually and feel more confident about being on their own now than they did before taking part in the center's program. Fish plans to have a roommate because she doesn't like being home by herself, but Kitz wants to live in her own apartment.

This year, the center is also starting a contract shredding service. The students help local schools, businesses and individuals shred confidential information in the appropriate manner. The job teaches work ethics, business practices, advertising and provides further preparation for independence. The business, which began Oct. 1, charges $3.50 per 1.22 cubic feet of paper to be shred, or the size of one Xerox paper box.

Next semester the center students start internships in the community. While helping the students learn more skills, the internships are also meaningful, since Main and Keller try to match the students with fields in which they have interest and skill. Some of these businesses include Mignone Interiors, Bella Vita Spa & Salon, Isadora's Cafe and Books, Imagination Station and Down to Earth.

"What really warms my heart is the number of businesses with interns," said Main.

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