They come from every corner of the LBJ campus, headed down "A" hall as soon as the lunch bell rings. Anticipation and hunger converge nicely, and a wonderful meal awaits every staff member participating in the FSP program's well-planned themed lunch. On Wednesday, Jan 25th, it was chili dogs; in February, 2017 it will be cupcakes. If the amazing staff lunches of the past are any indication (there have been pasta days, salad days, taco days, etc.), you don't want to miss it.
"My students plan the menu under my direction," said Kendel Ritter, teacher in the FSP program. "We decide what we need for a supply list. Then my students go around to staff with the sign-up list, and we send out reminders as the event gets closer. As items come in, they mark off the list, sort the food items, and stock them into refrigerator or counter item.
"On the day of the lunch (chili dogs), we boil water, turn on crock pots to heat the hot dogs and chili, chop onions, clean tables, and set up serving areas," Ritter continued. "Involving them in these activities allow them to show skills on specific goals they can be graded on. The big reward for the student is: if you don't help out the team, you don't get to try the food."
Ritter, now in her 14th year of teaching, wants her special needs students to acquire valuable real-world skills. Her program, formerly known as FSP (functional skills program) has been renamed "Intensive Global Support" (IGS1), and it serves 16 middle school students ranging in ages from 11-14.
"The vision for my program is to give students the necessary tools for each individual to become a contributing member of our community and/or society," she said. "I want my students to learn to build on the skills they already have acquired. We started making hats in our class, and we donated them to hospitals just before winter break. This one project focuses on all of my students' goals. I want them to be respected for their abilities and accomplishments, not judged for their differences."
As with any teaching assignment, Ritter faces a range of challenges every single day.
"Many students come to middle school thinking it's too hard," she explained. "Getting them to believe in themselves, to make short term goals they can reach and build up to bigger goals is key. Once they reach these goals, confidence soars and goals grow. The most rewarding aspect of teaching these students is watching them overcome obstacles."
Ritter, who works with fellow teacher Estevan Lucero, is supported by two incredible paraprofessionals, Ms. Cheri Clayton (who has been working at LBJ since our school opened), and Ms. Lisa Ullola, who came to LBJ at the end of last year.
Like an LBJ orchestra performance or band concert, the staff lunches are a celebration of learning and a joy to attend.
"I would like to have one per month January through May for a total of five this year," Ritter said.
The LBJ teachers can hardly wait.