Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Education

Sickles' CHOICE Academy helps students shine while shining cars

TAMPA — Dan Gallagher could hardly contain his pride when asked about a big event in his near future.

"I'm graduating!'' Gallagher said. "I've learned some new skills.''

Gallagher, 22, is part of the Sickles High School CHOICE Academy for special-needs students, some of whom have autism or other intellectual disabilities. After completing their high-school credits, the students (usually ages 18 to 22) move to the academy, which teaches life skills and practical experience in the working world.

The students are part of the "Gryphon's Car Wash,'' which has given them potential job skills and experience at running a business. They work at tasks such as running the hoses, applying the soap, detailing, rinsing and cleaning the tires.

The car-wash service is offered to Sickles administrators, faculty and staff. There's a student bookkeeper, Marcus Lopez, who collects the money and documents the budget. The funds are reinvested back into the business, perhaps to buy a shade tent, new hoses or other material. The business has a sponsor, a commercial car-wash firm called RCP America, which provides cleaning supplies.

"Overall, it's just such a beautiful and useful concept,'' said Sickles principal Jake Russell, who is finishing his 12th year at the school before shifting to the same position at Chamberlain High School. "It's win-win all the way around.''

Gallagher's father, Patrick, said the experience has been invaluable for his son.

"It's a big confidence-booster for him,'' Gallagher's father said. "He has (four) brothers, some of whom have jobs, and can relate to the idea of being responsible for something and doing your job effectively.

"When he comes home, he has such pride when he talks about whose car he washed and how it went that day.' He talks about how he wants to get a job like his brothers. I can't say enough about what the CHOICE Academy is doing.''

CHOICE is an acronym for Creating How Our Independence Can help us Excel.

"It reflects the mission statement that all of our schools follow in that we are preparing students for life,'' said CHOICE instructor Lisa Gaspar, who two years ago worked with Russell in conceiving the idea for a car-wash business.

They considered making pins, selling jewelry or serving coffee. Students were almost universal in their desire to be outside. So traction began for a car wash. They began with hoses, sponges and materials that could be rounded up. Once a customer base was established and a sponsor was brought aboard, the business has been self-sustaining.

"I think it's phenomenal,'' said Karen Stevens, an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) specialist. "They started with nothing but an idea. They are learning skills and they've already had people in the (car-wash) industry asking about giving some of them a job. You can see how they just blossom.''

The CHOICE Academy has course offerings that include preparation for adult living, career experiences, goal-setting and self-advocacy.

Nothing has been more popular than the practical application of a car wash, though.

"These students have gone from knowing nothing about washing cars to having lots of knowledge to understanding the money part of a business,'' said Haygan Bethel, an assistant in the CHOICE program along with Melanie Dinsmore. "Some of them may need caretakers, but some will be able to function in a regular job.

"They are learning to work together and follow the instructions of their supervisor. It's practical training for the real world.''

Gaspar, a business major, once worked in the New York corporate world. When she started a family, she left that career and began substitute teaching after relocating to Tampa. While at Sickles, she was drawn to the special-needs students.

Russell told her about a staff opening in that field.

So Gaspar chased it, getting certified and jumping in with enthusiasm. She now says, "I would never leave this.''

"It's incredibly gratifying,'' Gaspar said. "The car wash is such a labor of love for all of us. It has created so much good.''

Gaspar refers to Gallagher as "Dan the Man,'' saying he is "seriously versatile'' as he hops from vacuuming, detailing, washing and drying. When Gallagher beams with pride after completing his tasks, she also feels a sense of accomplishment.

"That's what keeps me coming back and all of us coming back,'' she said. "They go from shy to confident. They acquire skills. They prepare for the real world. It is truly great stuff.''

Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]

Comments
Sheriff: Sunlake SRO who took down student ‘did what he had to do’

Sheriff: Sunlake SRO who took down student ‘did what he had to do’

At a news conference on Wednesday, Nocco identified the officer as Richard Stackon, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1994. Stackon has spent "several years" as an SRO, Nocco said, and he had nothing in his file "that stands out." Around 1 p.m., Noc...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Converting Ridgewood High generates excitement, dismay

Converting Ridgewood High generates excitement, dismay

NEW PORT RICHEY — Chris Dunning is a bundle of energy as he greets families to Wendell Krinn Technical High School’s first open house.He talks rapid fire about the opportunities to earn college credits and gain career training while also completing a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hernando schools superintendent ‘pink-slipped’ by public following firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary

Hernando schools superintendent ‘pink-slipped’ by public following firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary

BROOKSVILLE –– A room full of people wearing purple erupted in frustration before Hernando County school officials Tuesday night, scolding Superintendent Lori Romano for her recent firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary, which has been struggling ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Hernando school officials deny Chehuntamo charter school on second try

Hernando school officials deny Chehuntamo charter school on second try

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday denied the 2019 opening of Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School, a charter school proposed by the same group that applied once before in 2017.The team behind the school, said to be for ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Hernando School Board okays second district-wide survey to evaluate superintendent

Hernando School Board okays second district-wide survey to evaluate superintendent

BROOKSVILLE — A second district-wide survey to evaluate the performance of Superintendent Lori Romano soon will go out to about 3,000 Hernando County School District employees, giving them a chance to weigh in on the job she is doing.The instrument, ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins is proud of his record in boosting high school graduation rates and inroads he has made in marketing the nation’s eight largest school district.His seven bosses on the School Board...
Published: 04/25/18
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions. They also said that as a result of his actions, he wil...
Published: 04/24/18
Updated: 04/25/18
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Published: 04/24/18

Battle continues over west Pasco school rezoning

Jim Stanley does not give up without a fight.The west Pasco County parent who brought down the school district’s 2017 attendance zone revisions, leading the administration to change its procedures along the way, has filed a new challenge to the syst...
Published: 04/24/18
Crews Lake eighth-grader already capable musician

Crews Lake eighth-grader already capable musician

SPRING HILL — Rose Dodd, 2 months old, couldn’t yet grasp a rattle, but there she was years ago at hand-bell choir practice at Keystone United Methodist Church in Odessa.Rose, 14, a Crews Lakes Middle School eighth-grader, is back at hand-bell practi...
Published: 04/24/18