By Luella Dow
Once in a while you meet a person who has the patience, the skills and the natural talent to lovingly teach those of us who need to learn by a different path.
We’re talking about Cindy Melhus, who has taught in the Cheney School District 15 years, and now teaches special needs students at the new Westwood Middle School where these kids have an opportunity to learn more than you could ever imagine.
Melhus said, “We teach them daily life skills. Job skills help them understand realistically what they can do. I have been blessed with the nicest kids. We build trust and safety in the classroom. They see themselves as people focused on the strengths they have. They can teach and help each other build confidence and become excited about what they can do. They are proud that they can have a regular grade and are learning.”
Melhus mentioned some of their occupational endeavors are washing blankets for the preschool and health rooms as well as delivering them back to their classrooms. “We also wash cleaning clothes for the staff room and wash our own PE uniforms. Cleaning our own classroom helps us learn functional everyday living skills,” she said.
The students learn to prepare food, set tables and clean up afterwards. Melhus said they were intrigued at the steps to stuff a turkey. After six weeks of cooking from scratch and freezing the food, students sent invitations to family members for a Thanksgiving meal. Over 40 family members and guests came to the feast. The Thanksgiving dinner was a great success as the students had learned how to greet people, be friendly and helpful and serve food.
The students sign up and take turns for various jobs at school, including helping the janitor, learning to use a broom, becoming familiar with a colander or spatula, reading a label. Melhus said they learned about brominated vegetable oil, which is a fire retardant and is in some of their favorite drinks.
The kids become more aware of others around them and to be more thoughtful. They find it’s OK to take pride in their own accomplishments and how to treat others the way they want to be treated. Teachers find strengths in each child and promote that strength.
At Christmas they set up, served and cleaned up for the staff monthly luncheons. The whole class sang at a Christmas caroling presentation.
Melhus said, “On Dec. 13 the class learned to make smoothies from the two young men, Ben and Mike, who run the smoothie stand at Gonzaga University. A big thank you to Sodexo for donating the ingredients and the machine. And thank you to the employees for giving their day off to share their expertise, life stories and learning challenges.”
Ben Ferney, the system principle, intends to open a store for the students and stock it with paper, pencils, etc. for the classrooms. Here’s another chance for the kids to practice dealing with money.
One of their ongoing projects is the collection of pop cans. Melhus said, “We have saved over 2,000 pop tops for the Ronald McDonald House. The Westwood Pathways welcomes all donations of pop tops for the Guild School and Vanessa Behan Nursery.”
We thank you, Cindy Melhus, and others at Westwood Middle School for an innovative teaching method that has brought much success to these children.
Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at email@example.com.