A Learning Home Away from Home

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PSJA Pathways Toward Independence, LIFE House helps special needs students gain life skills and vocational training

The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) has transformed a vacant house into a dream home where special needs students ages 14-21 are now learning invaluable life skills every day.

 As part of the district’s Pathways Toward Independence Program, the Learning in Functional Environments (LIFE) House ensures special needs students receive vocational training and functional independent living skills to help them become contributing members of the community.

 To celebrate the creation of the new learning home, PSJA ISD held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony April 21 where students, parents, staff, administrators, and members of the community had the opportunity to tour the facility and meet the students.

 “Our students know this is their home away from home. They spend time here every week, they help with the yard work, they cook here and even barbecue,” said Dr. Daniel P. King, PSJA superintendent. “It’s been so exciting to see our students take ownership of the house and to hear parents share how the program has impacted them.”

From daily living skills to agriculture, carpentry, and even photography, students in the program are learning how to be independent and successful at the PSJA LIFE House.

“I want to thank our superintendent and school board for believing in this innovative concept of teaching our students with special needs in a real-world setting,” said PSJA PTI Director Veronica Quintana. “The life skills they are gaining are a critical component to ensure that they are prepared and are lifelong learners.”

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 10.33.29 AMSince the program launched in the fall of 2016, partnerships with local employers have been strengthened and have provided students a deeper preparation for gainful employment. Recently, students have been able to take these skills to local businesses including At Home, Best Buy, Dairy Queen, Goodwill, NAFT Federal Credit Union, Regency Hall, Peter Piper Pizza, Pharr Memorial Library, Vany’s Flower Shop, On The Grill, Gold’s Gym, El Mana Cuisine, and Quinta Mazatlan.

“At PSJA ISD, our focus is helping every student succeed in transitioning to the next level not only to finish high school but to succeed and complete college through post-secondary training for employment,” King said. “The Pathways Toward Independence program is about doing the same for our special needs students.”

In addition to learning skills in the home, PTI students take required South Texas College continuing education courses to receive certificates and also intern at local businesses. 

Most recently, PSJA ISD held a graduation ceremony for the first two graduates from the program who completed South Texas College’s Continuing Education Courses in employability skills, basic cake decorating and basic photography. The graduates, Noah Veliz and Janie Gonzalez, were also surprised with full-time job offers from local businesses NAFT Federal Credit Union and Irma’s Sweet Shoppe.