Focus House programs provide life skills
Focus House programs provide life skills By Linda Vanderwerf Staff Writer WILLMAR -- Teachers and others who work with the students at Focus House enjoy watching them thrive and move out into their new lives. The program, at a house on Willmar Av...
Focus House programs
provide life skills
By Linda Vanderwerf
WILLMAR -- Teachers and others who work with the students at Focus House enjoy watching them thrive and move out into their new lives.
The program, at a house on Willmar Avenue just west of the Washington Learning Center, provides life skills training for special education students.
Focus stands for Future Occupational and Community Utilization Services. The house has operated for at least a decade at that location.
The district is in negotiations to possibly sell the Washington school property, but that will not affect Focus House, which is a separate program.
Getting visits from former students and seeing them holding down jobs in the community is rewarding for teacher Mary Benson and paraprofessional/job coach Deloris O'Meara.
"We want students to be able to speak for themselves," Benson said.
O'Meara said she was heartened when she asked a former student if the program could have done something more for her. "She said, 'You covered it all,'" she said.
For others involved in special education, Focus House is a special place to visit. Amy Hennes, a transition coordinator who works with junior and senior high students, enjoys seeing her students move into the program.
"It's a good group of kids and a good staff," she said.
"It's fun to watch their progress," Hennes said. "(The students) seem to do better after this."
Having a functioning house for a life skills program is quite unusual, said Susan Smith, director of special education for the district.
The program is available at no additional cost to Willmar students, because it's a school district program, Smith said. Students from other districts can use open enrollment to attend the program, but their districts pay their tuition.
"The goal is really to help our students make that transition from school-based learning to community-based learning," she said. "They develop friendships in a way we don't always see in a school setting."
The students learn to work as a team and get a tighter focus on their ultimate goals.
"I think this program really reinforces for students what their goals are," Smith said. "They really understand what they need to do."