“It’s hard to change our system from within, but it all comes down to a single issue. Are we willing to let people decide for themselves and support them in those decisions? Until we cross that bridge, all of the other bridges don’t really matter. Once you have though, there is no turning back.”……Commissioner Dennis Jones
The Achievement Center of Texas is a licensed non-profit day care and day habilitation center for children and adults with special needs. Every effort is made to offer families their choices in services and to support those choices wherever possible. In providing a wide range of services in the least restrictive environment, students at the Achievement Center can grow and develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially working toward greater independence and more satisfying way of life.
The Arts Exploration program developed in 2006 gives students opportunities to discover hidden talents, develop those talents and exhibit, perform or just explore their own creativity to enhance the quality of their lives through the arts.
The Achievement Center’s Community Inclusion program gives students opportunities to explore their community and enjoy many of the activities enjoyed by their non-disabled peers. Activities are chosen by the students and staff and are determined by the level of guidance and supervision needed by each individual for optimal functioning in the community. This service is intended to broaden the individual’s independent participation in the community and to improve skills necessary for that participation. The skills addressed by this service include using transportation, communication systems, shopping, using other services available to the general population, advocating for additional services, exercising rights of citizenship, using leisure time appropriately, etc. Services may be provided at central locations, but are often provided at community sites such as Parks and Recreation Department facilities, restaurants, public transportation facilities, Laundromats, movies, museums, etc.
The above describes our program at the Achievement Center of Texas. Our goal is to teach individuals the skills they need to be able to participate in the life of the community and to enjoy the same opportunities available to their non-disabled peers and family members. The training which takes place during the year at the Achievement Center includes:
Day Habilitation: Day habilitation classes are held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students have individual service plans which include day habilitation goals. Teachers work with the students on these goals as well as others to give the students every opportunity to become as independent as possible and to enjoy the process of learning in a safe, healthy, educationally stimulating atmosphere. Students move from one center to the other to train in the various skills provided by the teachers. These skills include, but are not limited to: money skills, writing skills, expressing feelings appropriately, doing laundry, loading and unloading a dishwasher, making a bed, setting the table. ACT provides its students with a fully equipped apartment inside the building in which they can learn and practice functional living skills on a daily basis. ACT has a library with 9 computers for students who desire to develop computer skills or learn to read or enjoy being read to by teachers or other students.
Arts Exploration: The Arts Exploration program is provided from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.. and 3 :30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Ordinarily there is no overlapping of day habilitation and arts exploration. However, if a funding agency requests that day habilitation occur after school. We will accommodate day hab training for those students if we are able to serve that student a minimum of 2 hours. The Arts Exploration Program is a program to discover and develop hidden talents. It is amazing that once given the opportunity to find talent and develop those talents, students often develop in other areas as well. Students often develop self confidence, better communication skills, self expression, self esteem and much more. Students in the Arts Exploration program are given opportunities to showcase their talents before live audiences or in art shows.
Day Care: The Achievement Center is a licensed day care center specializing in the care and training of children. The center’s day care curriculum incorporates and exceeds minimum standards set by Day Care Licensing. Students use developmental learning materials to help them build skills and enable them to experience success in school. ACT works with the student’s school teachers to support their learning objectives.
Building Self Confidence: In these sessions, students learn to take care of themselves, learn basic hygiene skills, infection control, makeup application, choosing their own hair styles, appropriate dress, caring for their own personal needs, self worth, discovering hidden talents, exercise and nutrition. In the summer, ACT provides its own “Glamour Shots” to help students feel good about themselves and take an interest in both inner and outer beauty. Students are given the opportunity to compete without the fear of being excluded, or not chosen or always being last. Sessions on expressing one’s feelings help students learn coping skills and ways to communicate what is bothering them. This often helps them control impulses and reduce aggressive behaviors due to frustration.
Community Inclusion: This program addresses appropriate behavior in a restaurant, choosing items from a menu, communicating your choices, shopping in a grocery store, choosing needed groceries from pictures or a list, taking items to the check out, paying for them, and depending on the developmental level and academic skills of the individual, making change or writing a check. Going to the movies, bowling and other places is another area of community inclusion enjoyed by ACT students. Prior to the outing, the teacher discusses the choices available and students choose from ads in newspapers or other media. Students learn to find the movie in the newspaper and communicate their wishes. Students vote on selected movies and learn to accept the concept that the majority rules. Other areas of community involvement include bowling, miniature golf, swimming, skating, game rooms, the Fort Worth Zoo, Arboretum, American Airlines, restaurants, the Science Place, Dallas Aquarium and special community events. Students learn the use of a Laundromat and public transportation including HandiRides, Dart Light Rail, and bus system. Students learn about stranger danger and other safety skills necessary to function in their community.
Cultural Diversity: Students are given many opportunities to experience the customs and cultures of other countries. These experiences introduce them to ethnic foods, celebrations, native attire, music and art.
Educational Assistance: The Director of ACT will attend the ARD* meetings of our school age students if requested by the parent. (School age: 3 to 21years) At this ARD meeting goals are developed and ACT staff are informed of additional areas of need to include in the training in the after school program at ACT. This helps to reinforce skills learned in school. Additional meetings are held either at the school or at ACT if problems arise which require further discussion.
Communications: ACT utilizes various methods of communication. Recognizing that students learn differently from each other, ACT provides a variety of methods of communication. These include sign language, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), gesture, communication boards (Dynavox), schedules and verbal communication systems.
Behavior Management: The staff work on activities with the students which encourage them to communicate their feelings without acting out or becoming aggressive or self abusive. Help is sought from behavior specialists of the public school, or other Behavior Intervention Services as needed by the student. Since respect and self- confidence is the focus of our program, no obtrusive or restrictive methods are used except in a crisis situation. ACT’s staff is trained in crisis intervention with a strong emphasis placed on using verbal skills to find the cause of a student’s anxiety, anger, sadness or frustration. Redirection is stressed when tension is evident. Time out consists of sitting on a bench or chair approximately 5 to 10 feet away from the center of activities. Time out never lasts more than 15 minutes. “My Personal Space” areas or “Frustration Stations” are set up so that students may choose to go to that area when they are upset, tired, angry, agitated or sad for a time of calming or working out one’s feelings of frustration.
Junior Staff Program: The students who enjoy helping the other students or staff may participate in the Junior Staff Program. This is a volunteer position and was an idea from a student. The Junior Staff help with things like running messages back to the main office, setting places at the table for lunch, setting out lunches, pouring drinks, heating lunches in microwave and picking up after those students who are unable to pick up after themselves. Rewards of a special field trip, movie, sodas, candy, popcorn are offered to Junior Staff participants for their service. Junior Staff badges are issued to show which students are acting in this capacity.
Parent Support and Advocacy: The Achievement Center endeavors to support parents by assisting them in advocating for the services they need for their disabled child or young adult. ACT’s Parent Information Services disseminates information on a wide variety of subjects to keep parents informed of the most up-to-date information regarding subjects such as guardianship, wills and trusts, transition services (what happens after graduation), parenting strategies, legislation, rights, mental health and mental retardation services, etc.
ACT has an open door policy and encourages parents or guardians to join with their students in activities, outings, luncheons, etc. ACT provides day care so that parents can work and be sure that their child or young adult is well taken care of and enjoying a safe, loving, healthy, environment. ACT fills the time gaps between the time individuals leave school or work and the time parents can pick them up. For working students, ACT is an opportunity to socialize and have fun after work.
Credentials: The Achievement Center of Texas is a contract agency of a number of Home and Community Based Service Providers. It is licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. It holds a non-profit tax exempt 501(c)(3) IRS Determination Letter. The Director is the current chairman of the Eastfield College Child Development Advisory Board and has served on the GISD Special Education Advisory Board for 14 years. ACT is often used as a training site for college students from University of Texas at Dallas and University of North Texas, SMU, Texas Commerce, PCI and others. The Director holds the Margaret Cone Award for outstanding work in the field of Early Childhood Development awarded by the Dallas Association for the Education of Young Children. ACT was named “Best of Texas” by the Corporate Child Development Fund in Austin in 1992. To our knowledge, it is the only center of its kind in the Dallas metroplex. ACT has an active Board of Directors and is active in the community with other service providers.
* ARD-Admittance, Renewal, Dismissal…..a committee which meets at least once annually to discuss goals and objectives and progress of public school students.
** IEP-Individual Educational Plan…..the plan set up by public school teachers to address the education needs of the student.
*** Crisis Intervention…..training to instruct teachers in methods of communicating with students to help manage or prevent aggressive behaviors.