Teachers with the multiple disabilities program at Gahanna Lincoln High School are saying "welcome home" to 15 students via a new model apartment.

Teachers with the multiple disabilities program at Gahanna Lincoln High School are saying "welcome home" to 15 students via a new model apartment.

A grand opening was scheduled Nov. 13 at the innovative space that's designed to teach life skills to students with multiple disabilities.

"It's supposed to feel like home," said Tiffany Hanna, who teaches the program with Cheryl Kempf. "We teach kids living skills so they can become independent citizens. The classrooms were in need of a facelift."

The teachers made due with the former science classrooms until another unit was added to the program.

"We knew we would become more life-skill oriented," Hanna said. "Cheryl and I went out and got donations."

The duo started by doing research, visiting similar model apartments at Pickerington and Olentangy school districts.

"We decided what we could do and made it happen," Hanna said. "The architectural class did the cabinets and painting. Parents and businesses helped. We spent the summer here."

The model apartment is in Hamilton Hall (formerly A-building) at the high school.

A doorway connects the academic room to the apartment-like space that features a working kitchen, dining room, living room and den with computers. Between the academic and apartment model is a small space that houses student lockers, a laundry room and former teachers office converted to a sensory room.

"The kitchen is the most important," Hanna said. "Each student cooks breakfast and lunch at least once a week. We eat family-style. We also work on manners and social skills."

She said the sensory room is good for children with visual impairments and provides additional stimulation with glow-in-the-dark ceiling tiles, lava lamps and a simulated fish tank. It also features a massage table and aromatherapy.

Kempf said the focus is to prepare students, ranging in age from 15 to 22, for life after high school.

"We tried to get close to a real kitchen and office cubicles for whether they go from school to work, a home or independent living," she said.

The program also includes job training with a job coach.

Past and current work sites include AEP, Mt. Carmel East Hospital, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Gahanna Movies 16, Lifetime Fitness, W.g. Grinders, Giant Eagle, Marshalls and Goodwill Industries, among others.

"We send two or three kids out to a job site with one of our staff people," Kempf said. "We see what the student would be most suited for."

With transition from student to adult and independence being ultimate goals, the teachers work with a variety of agencies to link students with services. One of those is the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation to find employment after graduation.

New to Gahanna's program this year is an overnight experience for students once every four weeks on Wednesdays at a home on North Hamilton Road.

"They go grocery shopping for meals and do an evening activity," Hanna said. "For a lot of them, it's their first (overnight) experience. It's unique."

The experience is designed to allow students to have their first transition away from their families.

The program for students with multiple disabilities has been at the high school for 20 years and has graduated 45 students.

"The first year, there were seven in the program," Hanna said. "Some may stay in the program six to seven years."

A tree has been painted on the wall of the academic room, with leaves containing the names of every student who has been in the program. The name of alumna Brianne Moore, who died in 2008, is written on a bird by the tree.

A reunion is held every other year for the program's graduates.

"They want to come back to our classrooms," Hanna said.

The renovation project was made possible thanks to the following supporters: Toyota Direct, which provided electronics; Elite Home Remodeling, custom cabinets; Cabinet Trends Inc., countertops; Target at Easton, Gahanna Meijer, Upscale Resale Furnishings, Home Depot of Gahanna, the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation, Morgan Assman and high school classes, and the Gahanna Lincoln PTO.

Contributions also were made by the families of Kristin Skamfer, Joe Flaherty, Andy Terracina, Jennifer Rash, Shannon Foley, Caroline Raya, Kayla Tull and Morgan Gill, as well as Bert Ward and family, the Amersons, Barb Kirkpatrick and family, Karen Haban and Amy Alexander, and Katie Hopper.