Special ed students show off new home

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EXCEL student Maxwell McNamara (center) shows off the new dining room at the White House with his teacher Katie Hibbert (left) and HPS director of student services Dr. Karen Zaleski.
PHOTO/MELISSA ORFF

A space has been transformed for a special group of Hopkinton Public Schools students thanks to the efforts of the entire community.

The White House — the building that formerly held the Student Services and Transportation offices on Hayden Rowe — opened its doors for a celebration on Dec. 5 to show off the new home of the 18-22 Special Education Program.

Renovations of the building have been ongoing since last spring and summer so that the new space would be ready for the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. A complete kitchen remodel and new laundry facilities have been part of the plan to give students in the program their own space outside of the high school.

“This new space allows the students the opportunity to have their independence as young adults,” said HPS director of student services Dr. Karen Zaleski.

The 18-12 program, also called the EXCEL Program, allows the students to increase their independent skills in transitional areas, including vocational, social skills, independent living skills, communication, and self-care. These students focus on transition from secondary education into adult life.

Now that the students in the program have access to this new space, the opportunities for learning are endless, according to school officials.

“We are able to spread out here,” said Katie Hibbert, the instructor of the program. “There have been so many opportunities for hands-on learning. The students even built the furniture in these rooms.”

The White House, which now is set up very much like a traditional house, received donations from the community of furniture as well as money to buy pieces such as shelves and chairs that needed to be assembled. The program also received donations of labor to help with renovations and electrical and plumbing work.

“The plumbing was just finished [in the kitchen] so we will be cooking soon,” said Hibbert. “Those are the independent living skills where they can get hands-on experience here.”

Thanks to the new space, the students soon will be able to host other districts that have similar programs to further enhance social opportunities and peer connections. The students already are planning their first home-cooked meal — an Italian one — to serve to their special guest, “Mrs. Z” (Dr. Zaleski).

“She is going to sit right here and eat with us,” said Maxwell McNamara, an 18-year-old student in the EXCEL Program, excitedly talking about the dinner party the students plan to host in their fully furnished dining room.

Their first official hosting duty, however, was the open house, where administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community were invited to see their new space.

“I was here when it was just office space. They have done a tremendous job renovating it,” said McNamara’s father, Paul.

Although the 18-20 program has a new home, students still will visit numerous locations in the greater Hopkinton community throughout the week, including the Hopkinton Public Library, the Sheraton Framingham Hotel and Conference Center, Encompass Fitness in Marlborough, and Framingham State University. The students will continue to assist the Hopkinton Center for the Arts with the distribution of fliers and brochures to various locations as well.

But it was due to the hard work and generosity of the school district and Hopkinton community that the 18-22 program can now call the White House “home.”

“We are extremely grateful for the support of all involved,” Zaleski said.

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