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Springfield Middle School's Gery teaches life skills

April 02, 2001

Springfield Middle School's Gery teaches life skills



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Editor's Note: The Herald-Mail is featuring one middle-school teacher each month through May. The eight-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month. Coming in May: Western Heights Middle School.

Every day is different for Bob Gery. Not only do his classroom activities vary from day to day, but so do the needs of his students in his life-skills class at Springfield Middle School.

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His nine special education students vary in their developmental disabilities and require a curriculum based on their individual needs. The biggest challenge, he says, is his daily task of meeting their needs.

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"It's challenging because no one in this room is exactly alike," Gery said. "Each has different abilities and each has different needs. It's the same in a regular classroom, but it's just more amplified here."

Gery must not only be patient, but supportive and caring as well.

His peers have recognized his compassion for dealing with his students and nominated him for the Teacher of the Year award, said Richard Gehrman, the school's principal.

His students learn math, reading and writing, but only the aspects of each subject they will need to be independent in their adult lives.

During math instruction, the focus is on measurement and money. The students work on various tasks that will help them identify and use money, different units of measurement and telling time.

Reading instruction is based on the individual level of each student and allows them to improve their reading skills and use words that are necessary for independent living.

Students learn to write by practicing writing their personal information, such as their names and addresses, on different forms, including job applications. They also develop personal writing skills by writing letters, short stories, reports and books.

"It's all stuff you're going to need someday," Gery said.

One student, Patrick Speaker, was practicing writing and showed Gery his efforts.

Gery immediately praised Patrick and then offered suggestions on how to improve.

"The last few are just perfect," Gery said. "But look how small the handwriting is."

"I am just a kid," Patrick joked back.

Gery's class is also creating its own short books on the topic of its choice. The topics range from snakes, dogs, cows and monkeys to jokes, cats and horses. While some are able to write and draw their own pictures for the book, others must use a computer because their fine motor skills aren't as developed.

He said a key component in keeping the students interested is keeping his class interesting.

"We do a lot of fun activities," Gery said. "We have a pretty full day. It keeps you jumping. That's what I try to do everyday - keep things fun."

He said the activities are a large part of daily instruction. They include counting and wrapping vending machine money, grocery-shopping activities, cooking activities, community field trips and pre-vocational life skills, such as groundskeeping, newspaper delivery and recycling.

Pre-vocational instruction helps students develop skills essential to being a productive member of the work force. Students are evaluated on their cooperation, persistence, independence while working, following directions and quality of their work.

Gery said the students' parents are supportive and help determine the individual educational plans of their children.

"The parents are real nice folks. They're supportive," he said. "The kids need that, and they're always going to need that type of support."

He said he also receives support from the staff at Springfield Middle.

Gery has spent nine years teaching in Washington County, including teaching at the Alternative Learning Center and the Washington County Job Development Center.

He's a native of Pittsburgh, and went to Slippery Rock (Pa.) University and Edinboro (Pa.) University. He received his master's degree from Frostburg State University.

He got interested in special education after teaching social studies in Erie, Pa., and working in a program for high school dropouts, in which most of the students had special needs.

He then went to Edinboro University to get his certification in special education before moving to Washington County.

He lives in Smithsburg with his wife and two young children.

Gery said he doesn't know when he'll stop teaching, but right now there's nothing that he finds more interesting.

"The kids are the best part," he said. "They're great kids. They really want to please you and want you to be happy with their efforts. And their best is really good."

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