Functionally speaking

MARQUETTE – Students involved in the Marquette Area Public Schools Functional Skills program relaxed with family, teachers and fellow elementary school students Friday afternoon during the program’s fourth annual barbecue.

The district’s Functional Skills program helps special needs students who may struggle in a traditional classroom setting, providing them the extra attention they need.

The annual barbecue – dubbed the “SpongeBob Barbecue” after the children’s cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants – took place in Functional Skills teacher Heidi Dougan’s classroom.

The group grilled outside with their families and other Sandy Knoll students; students, instructional aides and teachers from the Gravereat School’s FSP program; and Dougan and instructional aides that work with Dougan in the Sandy Knoll Functional Skills classroom.

Dougan said the barbecue was a great way for others to see what the Functional Skills program does for its students, acting as a sort of open house for her classroom.

The program, Dougan said, is open to students who are cognitively impaired or have other disabilities – such as severe attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder – and need some extra, one-on-one time with teachers.

Students spend a varying amount of time in Dougan’s class, depending on their needs and ability to participate in a traditional classroom.

The curriculum focuses on basic skills the students need to succeed in the classroom – basic counting, reading, manners, working with others and other social and functional skills.

The students are also integrated into traditional classrooms in the building as much as possible, and even have third-grade buddies that help them out.

Dougan said the program has been very successful over the years, due in large part to a supportive administration at Sandy Knoll as well as in the district’s central office, with even MAPS Superintendent Deb Veiht sometimes stopping by.

“It trickles down from the top and we work as a team,” Dougan said. “It’s a really cool school community. At the top, they totally get what we do. They’ll come and hang out. In my point of view, that’s the way it should be. We should be working together.”

Though some may view working day in and day out with special needs students as difficult, Dougan said she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s not a challenge to work in this building,” Dougan said, adding that with such a small number of students – only five at Sandy Knoll – she gets to know each student and his or her family very well.

“We really became close with the families,” Dougan said.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.