Project STRIVE – A learning experience for students with special needs

Megan Weiss, Reporter

Mrs. Sara Murdoch, Elmbrook Schools’ special education teacher, created the program known as Project STRIVE in 2010. STRIVE, or Specialized Transition Recreation Independent Living and Vocational Experiences, is located and taught out of an apartment on Bluemound Road, and it was designed for 19-21 year old special needs students so that they can become more independent.

The students in Project STRIVE work on social communication, develop vocational abilities, have fun with recreational activities, and ultimately learn to live independently.

Murdoch said, “Our main goal is to get students to be as independent as they can be.”

To become part of Project STRIVE students need to have completed all of the high school graduation requirements, be 19-21 years old, and have a documented disability.

Sue Weiss, volunteer and mother of a student in Project STRIVE, said, “ This is a great alternative to college, providing us options because the requirements fit our daughter so well, and I think it is important there are some basic and limited requirements for kids to be a part of STRIVE.”

STRIVE students have a very busy schedule. On Mondays, they go grocery shopping and go out to lunch. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays they go to the YMCA and either swim, use machines, or take a fun class. Friday is a recreational day.

Erika Weiss,  a May 2012 STRIVE graduate, said “My favorite fun Friday activity was going pumpkin picking.  I had to buy it by myself and be on time.”  Weiss also said, “ Going out on fun Fridays was a great way to end the week. I really miss being there and my friends”.

The Elmbrook School District is unique in that it is leading the charge in assimilating special needs individuals by having a program like STRIVE. Additionally, Elmbrook Project STRIVE is located in an apartment building rather than a school setting, giving students even more experience living independently. The apartment is handicap accessible and has one bedroom with a fully equipped kitchen, family room, and bathroom. Students in STRIVE have chores to attend to around the apartment.

Murdoch said, “ Students are proud of the apartment setting, growing and learning in it, and making the apartment their own home.”

Project STRIVE has filled a need in our community for a transition program to accommodate special needs young adults with special needs. This program is different because the location is outside of the high school footprint.  Even though there is additional cost for the apartment, the district still approved it with help from a variety of fundraisers that volunteers ran.

“These kids deserve some college like experience.  I feel everyone has gifts and talents to share and with Project STRIVE the kids receive the kind of experience that is very helpful to their learning real life skills.” Sue Weiss expressed.