ROGERS PARK — On the first day of school, students at Sullivan High School's low-incidence program stepped into a completely remodeled life skills room that one teenager described as being "like a movie."
The Rogers Park neighborhood high school at 6631 N. Bosworth Ave. serves 52 students in the program, a 6-year school track for students who demonstrate mild to severe cognitive disabilities — anything from autism, to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy, said Matthew Fasana, director of culture and climate at Sullivan.
Or, as he puts it, "in charge of hugs and high-fives."
Other students sometimes end up going on to college, Fasana said, that's why it's been essential to help teach all students, regardless of where the severity of their disabilities, to "live on their own."
"We felt like it was a disservice to them to let them walk out of our building and graduate without being able to do normal, everyday tasks," he said.
Daily tasks like making a bed, doing dishes, laundry and general hygiene can be practiced in the apartment-style classroom. Students also learn how to clean and prepare food, Fasana said.
The smell of baking cookies sometimes draws him into the room, he said.
Linze Rice says the room helps bring all classmates together:
Principal Chad Adams told DNAinfo earlier this month that he'd built a relationship with the Rogers Park Builders Group, who agreed to take on the project at no cost to Sullivan. Brian Semel, chairman of the group's fundraising board, took the reins of the project.
"I can't explain how cool it was for them to come here and be able to do this," Fasana said.
In a video created for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil the new classroom Tuesday night, Adams thanks the group for giving his students the tools to "have a happy life" and "live the American dream."
Included in the new room is a "Murphy" bed — a bed that folds into the wall and is disguised as a cabinet when not in use — washer and dryer, new appliances like a dishwasher, microwave, stove and double-door fridge, brand new cabinets, tables, chairs and more. The room also go a new floor and a paint job.
It's a sorely-needed upgrade that ultimately benefits all students, Fasana said, not just low-incidence learners.
For example, uniforms worn by the school's sports teams are collected and washed by students in the program.
It's an act that could easily foster a bullying culture, but instead breeds appreciation, understanding and compassion among students, Fasana said.
As they age, Fasana said he believes it's small, everyday things like that which will ultimately have an impact on how students engage with others down the road — and he hopes Sullivan graduates have a particular penchant for helping others.
"One of the things about Sullivan that makes it so great is just the diversity that we have, and this is just one more exposure that our students get to have," Fasana said. "When all students get out in the real world, there's going to be a likelihood to assist and volunteer, and remember back when they were in high school, 'Oh we had students who had autism, we had students who were handicapped,' and they'll be more likely to give empathy."
A Murphy bed acts as the bedroom of the apartment-style classroom. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
A bed that folds into the wall was brought into the mix to help students prepare for independence after graduation. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Low-incidence students regularly collect and wash student athlete uniforms as part of their class, an act appreciated by student athletes, administrators say. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
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