Mapping the Route: Life Skills in Action
Riding the yellow school bus from home to school and back each day feels like a comfortable routine. However, for the eighth graders at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) that routine will change at the end of the school year when they stop taking the bus and enter the exciting and challenging new world of independent travel.
"Preparing our students to be able to use public transportation when they enter high school is one of our life skills goals," said Lynn Olden King, transition counselor. "Our transition program uses the Students on the Go: A Travel Training Manual. The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center developed this manual to help prepare deaf and hard of hearing students for increased autonomy while travelling."
Take KDES student Sohnae McCray, whose commute would seem daunting to most parents. She will have to catch the Gallaudet University shuttle bus to a Metro station, take a train to a destination near her bus stop, walk to and board the bus, and then walk from the bus stop to her home—a journey of approximately one hour. How can she prepare to accomplish this goal? "We begin our transition class with a pre-assessment of a student’s knowledge of land, water, and air travel. Based on their responses, we work on vocabulary and concepts related to transit maps, road signs, traffic patterns, Metro train and bus time tables, Metro track information, and weather reports," said King.
The students use computer websites like Google Maps and travel planning programs to begin orienting themselves to spacial geography—where the school is located in relation to their homes in terms of distance and time, and what modes of transportation they need to take to get themselves from their original to their final destinations.
The students start out with basic travel orienteering, using Gallaudet’s campus as a practice ground. They practice time management and organizational skills, pick up important safety information—including carrying identification and a cell phone—and learn how to interact with people along the way.
King sets up scenarios for the students to problem solve. In class, she asked them to troubleshoot the following situations and respond:
Question: What do you do if you miss your stop?
Student: Get off the train and get on the train going the other way
Question: You get to a Metro station but the train is "out of order." What do you do next?
Student: Check with the Metro office.
Question: You see a Metro car with only one passenger inside. Do you go in or wait for another train with more people?
Student: Wait for the next train.
Question: How do you know when a Metro train is arriving at the station?
Student: The lights flash along the walk by the track.
On the day of her first independent travel experience, McCray said she was both excited and a little bit nervous. "But not as nervous as my mom! I had to tell my mom that I would be fine and not to worry."
After her first solo run, McCray proudly texted King that she had arrived home. "It felt great being able to travel without a parent. I felt like a big girl. I could trust myself to get to where I needed to go," she said.
From start to finish, the travel training program prepares students, equipping them with an essential skill that opens up their world. "We set high expectations for our students that they will master this independence goal," said King. "The travel training practice is part of a larger program for students to instill practical life skills they will need as they transition to the life and demands of high school."