● By Claudia Mosby
Tehama Adult Learning Center
“She gets on the bus about 6:45 am and arrives at school about 8:30,” says her mother, Patty, regarding the two days a week she does not drive her daughter to school. In spite of the extra time involved, the trip is one with purpose.
Estrada, who lives with cerebral palsy, is one of nine students with a developmental delay or handicapping condition being served by the Tehama County Department of Education’s Adult Learning Center program. Designed for students ages 18-22 with moderate to severe disabilities, most transition into the program from high school through an Individualized Education Plan.
“The classroom focus is on social skills development and how to conduct oneself in a group or business situation,” says program supervisor Julie Howard.
The adult learning center uses community-based instruction to develop and strengthen not only communication and social skills, but also daily living skills, work experience and confidence in leisure and recreation activities. Functional academics are taught in an applied rather than rote manner.
“Ultimately, our goal is to get them involved in a work program where they are gaining income or involved in an adult day program,” says teacher Kelli Stroud. “We want them to be active members of the community.”
In addition to the center’s onsite options, students also gain experience through its partnerships with local businesses like Goodin’s Rock Garden Nursery in Proberta and St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff.
“I just adore them,” says Cathy Goodin about the students who assist her five days a week. “They spread gravel, move plants, weed and water. Sometimes they prune. On Fridays, we garden in a little area in the back that we have set up for our own use.” This is Goodin’s third year working with the program.
Student interest drives participation, says Stroud. “We ask if they like to work outside or inside, alone or with others, with people or with things. If I have students who can’t communicate, I use a picture interest survey.”
Estrada chose the center’s school-based enterprise, The Barkery, where she and other students make all-natural dog biscuits for resale to the community. She assists by stirring ingredients, and though she cannot maneuver the biscuit cutter, she places the bones on the tray once they are ready for baking. “She enjoys having that job,” her mother says. “It makes her feel like she’s doing something good and worthwhile. And she feels useful.”
The Barkery began in 2007 when a teacher brought the concept with her to the Tehama Adult Learning Center. “The focus was to increase student socialization, independence and to get them to realize cause and effect,” says Howard. “Once students made the biscuits and sold them, they then needed to decide what to do with the money they earned.”
Students make a grocery list, shop, bake, bag, weigh and sell biscuits in three sizes. “As a class, they have to reach consensus on how to spend the money,” says teacher Stroud. “They can set a short-term goal like going to a pizza parlor, but then they need to evaluate short-term versus long-term gain. The majority of our students do not come to us with these kinds of skills.”
Such a decision-making opportunity presented itself in 2010 when The Barkery received the Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning Award. Established by film producer Brian Grazer, it recognizes outstanding programs and practices in special education that serve California youth with disabilities.
“Students elected to expand their business-based enterprise with the award monies by purchasing a vending machine,” says Howard. Named Healthy Eats & Treats, the machine is located at the Tehama County Department of Education, where students periodically survey staff regarding desired items. They also budget, purchase, stock and maintain all machine operations.
Estrada, who recently turned 21 and will age out of the program next year, is working on regaining physical strength in order to attend school longer than her current two hours per day. “She enjoys going to the adult learning center because she has many friends,” says Patty Estrada. “They also have a wheelchair-accessible van so she gets to enjoy many outings with the group.”
Stroud and her team presented to the class a plaque bearing the names of the students who aged out of the program this year. It hangs proudly on the wall for all to see, but especially for students needing encouragement to continue their education.
Find The Barkery biscuits at Enjoy The Store Red Bluff,
the Special Olympics on May 6 in Red Bluff, or order online at