UPDATE: This post is written by Michael Tomberlin from Alabama NewsCenter. Learn more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com/
The recent first day of the new school year at Horizons School in Birmingham was much like what you would find at any preparatory school or even small college.
Students were moving into their rooms, parents of first-year students were more nervous than the students themselves, while returning students were all abuzz as they reunited with classmates.
But the young adults who attend Horizons School are what make it special.
The students at Horizons have learning and other disabilities and this is the first time most of them will live outside the protective havens of their parents’ homes.
In the three years they are at Horizons, the students will learn everything from hygiene to balancing a checkbook, from keeping up a home to holding down a job.
“If you think of the things that make an adult independent in this society, it’s someone who can maintain their own residence, somebody who can cook and clean, plan meals, keep with a daily schedule,” said Brian Geiger, executive director of Horizons School. “Those are all the types of things we teach here at Horizons.”
Horizons owns Terrace Court apartments in Five Points South, a couple of blocks away from the school itself. Students live in the apartments the first two years where they are learning everything from safety to laundry under the watchful eye of residential assistants who also live there.
During their time at Horizons, the will learn how to buy groceries at the Western Supermarket up the street, take the bus to the movie theater, hold a job at Chick-fil-A, Steel City Pops or any number of participating companies that work with Horizons students to first give them an internship to learn and often end up giving them a permanent job after they graduate.
Kelly (Horizons doesn’t release last names of students), a student from Florida who is starting her second year at Horizons, is “learning new life skills, job skills, learning just new things. It’s always good and, to me, fun to learn new things.”
She said she is glad to be back at the school and looks forward to decorating her apartment with her Beatles posters.
“I like it here,” she said. “It’s friendly people.”
Kelly’s mother, Connie, said she is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments in just one year at Horizons.
“I feel wonderful about it,” she said. “I see my daughter becoming more and more independent. The change and the growth in her is phenomenal. I’m so proud of her.”
Geiger said while it can be hard to parents to let go and become less protective of their child, the pride that comes with their independence is more than enough to replace that apprehension.
“Their parents’ goal is for the students to attain a significant level of independence so they don’t have to return home as young adults and live under mom or dad’s roof. And that’s our goal, too,” Geiger said. “We want everybody to maximize their potential. So, when they achieve their own bank account and they’re able to manage those funds correctly and when they can establish utility service in their own name, those are some of the hallmarks of independence in our society.”
A measure of independence
Alabama Power customer service representatives were at the school on opening day helping students put the power bill in their own names. It might seem like a small thing to others, but Geiger said it’s a big deal for the students.
Jessica is also a second-year student and is more than happy to list what she’s learning at Horizons.
“I learned to shop, how to budget for food, how to cook and how to clean,” she said.
Geiger said donors help with everything from movie night to providing scholarships for students in need. Volunteers work to organize fundraisers or even help around the school.
The students become fixtures in the Southside neighborhood. Though the students come from all over the U.S., many decide to live in the neighborhood after they graduate because they are familiar and comfortable there.
Until then, Horizons School is there to guide them to that level of independence.
“It’s exciting,” Kelly said. “I’m moving forward and, just, moving up and keep on going and learning new things. I’m real excited about that.”
Learn more about The Horizons School at: http://www.horizonsschool.org/