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LOWELL — Lowell High School student Carmyn Lauridsen was in the back of the classroom, busy loading gym clothes into the washing machine.

Logan Watt and Lexi Crum were working on folding napkins and putting together place settings for a table.

Ashley Dollins and Nichole Gregory were making hotel hospitality kits.

The 17 students in Rebecca Witkowski's Intense Interventions class at Lowell High School are extraordinarily busy, learning new skills as they prepare for life after high school.

Witkowski, who has been a teacher in the special education program at Lowell for 18 years and just moved to the Intense Intervention class this school year, is excited about so many things her students are accomplishing.

Witkowski, who won a grant from the Tri-Creek Education Foundation, utilized it this year to purchase hand-held tally counters for the students to use during activities to track their progress and monitor their performance.

Students in the Intense Intervention classroom complete many hands-on vocational activities including shredding paper, filling salt and pepper shakers, filling sugar caddies, folding towels, making hotel hospitality kits, setting the table, assembling nuts and bolts, folding bulletins for a local church and stamping library books.

"They are preparing for their future jobs," Witkowski said.

"Most students will secure jobs in supported environments completing piece work. They will be paid for how many items they complete. Businesses such as Opportunity Enterprise use the counters.

"The counters also prepare them for the workforce and are used to track progress on Individual Education Program, IEP, goals. This project received financial support from the Tr-Creek Education Foundation," she said, adding the grant award was $47.

Witkowski said her students also use the counters when they participate in the Mighty Milers program. That's a program with the New York Marathon/New York Road Runners whose goal is to keep children physically active and moving.

Mighty Milers is free for kids of all fitness levels. It's designed to get kids moving and prevent obesity and illness. Participation in Mighty Milers helps young people build self-esteem and learn to make and reach personal goals.

Witkowski said her students set a goal to walk 50 miles over the school year, and all have already surpassed the 100-mile mark. She said they have received numerous rewards along the way, including T-shirts, water bottles and medals.

"Every Monday and Friday we participate in Mighty Milers, and we walk around the gym," she said.

Academics also key

The students focus on functional academics such as reading comprehension and understanding the basic who, what, when, why and how of a story.

"We also work on survival words in the community that they need to know," Witkowski said.

"We focus on money on Mondays, time on Tuesdays, writing and work on Wednesdays, Thursday is technology and Friday is food and fun."

The students also have had a chance to learn about cars in teacher Leon Simon's auto mechanics class and do science experiments with chemistry teacher Amanda Czyszczon. Each student also has a take-home Macbook for class work and assignments.

The students also participate in the community regularly, volunteering their time at numerous organizations through programs supervised by Lori Brown-Runyon, transition coordinator for the Crown Point-based Northern Indiana Special Education Co-op, or, NISEC.

"I have four job coaches, and I supervise all of the districts and the student activities," she said. "We set up community volunteer sites throughout Lake County."

Those sites include Cedar Creek Health Campus in Lowell, the Lowell Public Library, and the food bank, as well as assisting in special education classrooms in the Lowell elementary schools.

As Logan Watt logged into his Macbook, he said he was working on the IXL math and language arts program.

"I like working on the computer, but I do not like math," he said.

Nichole Gregory said her favorite class is music. "We're doing a play right now. I have a part in the play," she said. "When I get out of high school, I'd like to move into a house with one of my friends."

Lilly Auguano said she uses her computer frequently, and her favorite class is choir. "I like to visit Oak Hill (elementary school)," she said.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.