A Steinert High School freshman picks up the phone, and dials a local bagel shop.
“Hi, I’m calling from Steinert High School to place our bagel order,” the student says.
While this interaction might seem simple, a phone call like this is a sign of growth and a cause for celebration for students in the Community Based Instruction class. CBI is part of the district’s Life Skills Program, where students up to age 21 on the autism spectrum can learn skills they’ll need for jobs after high school.
The Community Based Instruction class meets for the entire school year, once a week, for an hour or two every week. As part of their curriculum, the students are taken to locations where they can work firsthand with the life skills they learned. They might go to the laundromat and learn how to do laundry. Or they might call a local business to place an order.
Kimberly Schaffer has taught in the autism program in the Hamilton school district for 16 years, and has run the Life Skills program at Steinert for the last three. She teaches mostly 9th and 10th graders, but usually has a class or two of 12th graders, as well.
The first skill students learn, as freshmen, is how to make phone calls and interact with other people. Being able to interact socially with others is a skill that people with autism often struggle with.
This year, the freshmen CBI classes at Steinert have partnered with Caesar’s Bagels and Deli on Flock Road. Students take bagel orders from teachers while at school, marking down what was ordered and taking payment. The students also have to calculate if a teacher needs change and how much.
The money generated from selling the bagels goes toward supplies for the Community Based Instruction program. Caesar’s donates the bagels.
Once all the orders are taken, a student will call Caesar’s Bagels. Schaffer has made a reference sheet as a guide for the students. They place a tally mark next to the bagel a teacher has requested so they can read what bagels are needed when informing Caesar. Eventually, she hopes the kids won’t be dependent on the sheet and be able to carry on a conversation with little or no assistance.
She said Caesar’s owner Sezer Ates has made the students feel comfortable working with him.
“I feel like Sezer really knows what autism is,” Schaffer said. “He really wanted the kids to call and the kids to be involved, and that’s the whole point of this.”
On Friday morning, the bagels are picked up, and brought to Steinert. Once there, the students wrap the teacher’s order forms with their purchase and deliver the bagels to the teachers.
As the students progress, they learn new skills and are given more challenging tasks. Students in the upper grades should know basic skills, and progress to what they’ll need to hold a job, with even more hands-on experience. Eventually they’ll work in real-world environments. Post-graduate students have worked at Barnes & Noble, Panera, Five Below, the Hamilton Free Public Library and Walgreens.
The objective of the CBI program is for the kids to gain valuable knowledge for the future. They will make mistakes at times, but those involved with the students know to be very patient in order to help the students to learn for next time.
“They learn slower and differently,” Schaffer said. “Just seeing them learn—even if it’s at a slower rate than the average person—is my favorite part of the position.”