New CCISD Lab Opens Doors for Special Needs Learners

By: Sydney Hunt
| Published 02/16/2022

Students from Parr Elementary celebrate their new skills and the first construction project completed in the new CCISD Practical Assessment Exploration System Lab.
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LEAGUE CITY, TX -- “This is so fun!” said Mason, a Parr Elementary third grader, at the end of his first visit to the new CCISD Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES®) Lab, now “open for business” in the CCISD Learner Support Center (LSC). Mason and his classmates were among the first students to have the opportunity to discover and explore the PAES Lab, made possible through a big idea and big funding.

$31,730 Clear Creek Education Foundation Grant Brings Lab to Life

The inspiration came from Parr Elementary Alternative Academics teacher Christie Morgan. Morgan understood that, while many CCISD schools have components for a hands-on exploration lab, they cannot all be equipped with every component necessary to expose the students to a multitude of life skills and jobs. For example, one elementary school may feature a kitchenette for students to learn cooking skills and kitchen safety, while another school is outfitted with a cash register and sewing center. The PAES Lab features the equipment and learning systems to train for nearly 300 jobs across five career areas.

“Beginning these activities in the elementary years allows for building blocks to form and that they will continue building throughout their CCISD career,” said Morgan.

Last year, Morgan applied for a Clear Creek Education Foundation (CCEF) Special Innovative Grant that would benefit all elementary special needs learners across the District. In the end, the Quarter Century Club Partners of CCEF funded the full grant request in the amount of $31,730.60. Then, Morgan and her team got to work creating their dream space. In just a few short months, the lab was ready to open doors, literally and figuratively.

PAES is a hands-on comprehensive curriculum that simulates a real-world environment. Students follow procedures to get the feel of real routines and structure, while at the same time learning and exploring new techniques. Each area has a comprehensive array of tasks for the students to perform. The instructor monitors the tasks and provides feedback and assistance where needed. Students are encouraged to become as independent as possible and are awarded for their progress. The students are given the opportunity to accomplish hand-on activities that align with real-life experiences. Students are encouraged to become independent problem-solvers and develop higher order thinking skills.

PAES includes audio job cards and works with all levels of students and abilities, including non-readers. Accommodations and modifications can also be made when necessary.

On Feb. 1, 2022, Morgan and grant co-applicant Penny Sweeney hosted an open house for elementary Alternative Academics (AA) teachers across the District so each teacher could get acquainted with the lab offerings and prepare lessons in advance of their students’ monthly scheduled visits to the PAES. Each teacher who utilizes the lab also receives a two-day training to fully understand the ways the Lab systems are implemented. In the beginning, elementary students in grades three through five in the AA program will be the first to use the lab with plans to expand to other grades in the future.

While working and learning in the Lab, students become “employees,” wear “PAES Lab Employee” badges, and clock in and out on the computer. The five career areas introduced in the lab are computer/technology, construction/industrial, process/production, consumer/service and business/marketing. Within these areas, every activity is hands-on and many activities in which students will participate start at the basic skill level and build to mastery of more complex tasks. In the business/marketing unit, for instance, students can explore activities in alphabetizing, card filing, number sorting and sequence, collating, making change and using a cash register and tenkey calculator and typing. Assessments and evaluation metrics that are built into the system will help guide students’ interests and decisions for post-secondary education or vocation options.

“It is sometimes common for special needs students to be steered toward jobs such as ‘greeter’ or grocery store stocker, but there are so many skilled positions we can and should expose our students to,” said Morgan. “Through the Lab and learning system, our students and their families can determine where their strengths lie, what future education or career options are a good fit, and perhaps more importantly, what brings our students satisfaction and enjoyment,” she said.

During Mason’s and his classmates’ first visit to the PAES Lab, they helped build a bench and sew pillows that have found their home right outside the lab for all who enter the LSC to enjoy.

“I am thrilled to watch this space come to life with children discovering new things and having fun,” said Morgan. “I hope the Foundation understands they helped put these huge smiles on the faces of our students. They have done a really good – and important – thing here.”

Click here for a photo gallery featuring pictures from the open house and the inaugural visit from Morgan’s class.