Luzerne IU 18: Teaching the Skills of Daily Life

 In the Luzerne County town of Pittston, a huge old house stands at the end of a bridge crossing the Susquehanna River. Outside, the grounds are well-maintained. Inside, the rooms are neat, despite the steady coming and going of people all day.

This is the REAL Academy, a day program for special needs students. Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 owns the house – a former funeral home, actually -- where students with autism or intellectual or physical disabilities prepare for independent lives beyond the support of school systems.

The REAL Academy is one piece of the comprehensive package that IU 18 offers to schools helping special-needs students transition to adulthood. The transition plan developed around age 14 or 15 requires attention to the needs, talents, and wishes of individual students. IU 18’s transition opportunities present a menu of choices that help families, teachers, and school customize the plan.

At REAL Academy, students ages 14 through 21 learn real-world skills. The fully equipped home has a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, and laundry room. With help from a teacher and other service providers, such as occupational therapists and physical therapists, students learn to do laundry, prepare meals and follow recipes, make beds, and do housekeeping. Older students learn to budget their money and shop for groceries and household needs.

“They maintain the grounds,” said IU 18 Executive Director Dr. Tony Grieco. “They cut the grass, they pull the weeds, they plant things, they dust, they sweep. It truly is a skills-for-life type of classroom.”

While attending REAL Academy, students can also participate in other transition programs to explore careers, build job skills, and even learn to farm. The programs point special-needs students away from lives of dependence. 

“Giving them support while they venture out and have that positive experience gets them excited about the potential to be able to earn a paycheck and be a contributing member of the workforce,” Grieco says.    

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