Innovations in Special Education 2019

Warren County Special Services School District: The H.I.L.L.S. House

Age Group Served: Three to 21 years; Number of Students: More than 40

The Helping Individuals Learn Life Skills (H.I.L.L.S.) House program is located in a house on the campus of Centenary University, and provides an opportunity for students with special needs to foster independence and build self-esteem. The house has been configured to meet the needs of the students, with a renovated prep kitchen with extra counter space to accommodate large group cooking lessons, a dining room with an expanded table for social skills luncheons and laundry facilities to enhance skill sets.

Students learn home maintenance skills, including painting to cleaning; hospitality skills, including laundry, making beds, and hosting an event; horticulture skills, including gardening; and holiday preparation skills, including planning, cooking, and serving. Students learn these skills in a real home environment.

The success of the H.I.L.L.S. House is measured in skills mastered. For example, one student was learning to make a bed. At first, it took him 45 minutes with a staff member modeling on another bed. The student came every other week and after many practices, was able to make the bed in three minutes.

The students who spend time at the H.I.L.L.S House also interact extensively with community members. The local police department has visited to explain in detail what happens in a 911 phone call. For the local Shop Rite store, the students pick up the cashier’s smocks, and wash and fold them before returning them to the store. Shop Rite supplies the laundry detergent for the house. Several community groups visit the house, including a group of seeing eye puppies in training. Education majors from Centenary University visit the house to observe and participate in activities. The house is also made available, for a fee, to students from other school districts, in addition to the Warren County Special Services School District.

Janet Cunningham, the house coordinator, explains that students sometimes sign a wall in the house, and leave a comment. One student’s comment speaks volumes: “I love coming to HILLS House. We learn lots of new things.”

For more information:Janet Cunningham, house coordinator, Warren County Special Services School District