Viewpoint: Next Step program gives students skills

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Christine Osorio is the District 622 superintendent

In District 622, students with special needs have unique opportunities for hands-on learning at its best.

At the Next Step Transition Program, which educates students ages 18-21, students work with staff members to meet the goals, objectives, and activities set out in their Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs). Learners also complete a graduation plan, which may include paid employment or volunteer experience, depending on the student's goals and what their family envisions for them. On the day students receive their diploma, they present their own personalized exit presentation.

One of the ways students gain meaningful, real life experience is through Next Step's Dog Bone program. Currently in its 10th year, it provides a fun and exciting environment where students learn and work on functional life skills, including literacy, math, social skills, and sensory integration.

"There are so many different skills embedded in this project and how it meets the students' varying needs in all curricular areas," said Denise Caley, teacher. "As far as favorite tasks, students enjoy measuring the ingredients, using the mixer, kneading the dough, and methodically placing the biscuits on the cooking sheet. Others enjoy counting biscuits to fill an order. Most love figuring out what items we need to purchase and to shop for those ingredients. The least favorite job is cleaning up. It seems no one likes doing the dishes!"

Regardless of the role, students demonstrate a noticeable spike in self-esteem and confidence once they complete their assigned task.

"There is a lot of pride and ownership," noted Caley.

The dog biscuits are licensed through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Each biscuit is all-natural and made with human-grade ingredients, ensuring the receiving canine enjoys a tasty treat without any artificial flavors, colors, or preservations. The three different flavors of bones sold, in order of popularity, include: peanut butter oatmeal, apple cinnamon, and mint parsley. The biscuits range in size (small, medium, and large) and cost .10-.50 cents apiece. Due to cost, gluten free dog biscuits are not available at this time.

Funds generated from this student program help provide students at Next Step with activities such as music therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, environmental education classes, and opportunities to participate in competitive bowling leagues that they would otherwise would not have exposure to.

Anyone interested in ordering dog biscuits is invited to call 651-621-1961 or visit Next Step, 2586 E. Seventh Ave., North St. Paul, for an order form. This year, sales run from Sept. 5 through mid-May.

To learn more about Next Step employees and hear from students in the program, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1H9a0XWkwLk