Burley High teaches students with special needs outside of classrooms

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BURLEY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - Special education teachers at Burley High School take their students outside of the classroom to teach them about social and life skills.

Ashly Karlson said they are trying to prepare the students to "have the best life possible."

"We are very fortunate to have a community and school that has created an environment that really embraces our students and advocates for our needs," she continued. "So, we are blessed to be able to take our students out into the community and get them exposed to jobs and different activities that are available to them after they graduate."

Karlson said they've taken their students out swimming, bowling and more.

"We are really blessed to have Special Olympics where we get to go bowling and we get to go to Ponderosa and golf, and go to Pomerelle where we ski and snow shoe," she said.

Torri Matsen, another special education teacher, said they try to expose the students as much as they can.

"Things like swimming, bowling, going to restaurants, so we don’t think of that as being a big deal, but the rules and the social norms that go with that need to be taught to our students," Matsen said.

Karlson said the students are not always going to be in a classroom.

"Giving them that exposure and those experiences is huge for them, because a lot of our students otherwise may never get to do a lot of the activities that they’re fortunate enough to do here," she said.

Juneson Aguilar, a student with special needs, said his favorite activity outside of the classroom was going to a picnic.

"We get to hang out and play tag and hide and seek, and I'm doing the sports, football and the basketball," he said.

Karlson said their goal this year is to hopefully go out into the community at least twice a month.

Juneson told KMVT he thinks he's doing well with his classes.

"I want to be a graduate and I want to go to college doing math, reading," he said. "Be like a teacher."

He told KMVT his favorite subject was math.

"I love math because I was good at it. I like to do some time and money like 12 times 3 is 36," he said.

Matsen said the program also has many great peer tutors to help the students as well.

"They are some of our best advocates and they are actually teaching our students a lot, socially also," she said.

Both Matsen and Karlson said teaching students with special needs is "amazing."

"It's the kids that make the job what it is," Karlson said. "They teach us more than sometimes we teach them. They come from very tough circumstances and they are some of the happiest kids you would ever meet and they find joy in the small and simple things."

Matsen told KMVT that finding special education teachers can be challenging.

"Asking someone to do a thankless job, for the amount of money that we make, but it really takes a special person and I can’t encourage people enough to try it, see the rewards, get to know the students," she said.

Matsen said she recently had a student that came from another school district and is non-verbal.

"He’s not able to speak at all. He's very smart and I was working with him recently and introducing to him the iPad," she explained.

For the first time, he was able to tell her something he wanted through the iPad with some apps.

"He said I want chips, and when I gave him chips, and I know that sounds small but he was excited and he was so happy to able to tell me what he wanted," she remembered smiling.

She said it felt amazing.

"I'm helping someone become more independent to advocate for themselves to tell their wants and needs. It’s huge. It’s something we all take for granted, I think," she said.

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