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Life skills class gets learning tool

Students in a life skills class at Crownover Middle School in Corinth have a new learning tool — a 12-foot functioning kitchen — thanks to a helping hand from Team Depot, a volunteer arm of the Home Depot Foundation.

The space is equipped with an electric stove and an oven, a stainless-steel double sink, dishwasher, a compact refrigerator, a laminate countertop, office shelves and maple cabinets.

The kitchen was built last month by volunteers from Team Depot, a program in which Home Depot store associates and suppliers participate in community service projects that benefit veterans, schools and nonprofit organizations.

The life skills class at Crownover is designated for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students with cognitive disabilities, and in addition to core subjects, students are taught living, personal, social and occupational skills, such as cooking.

Before the new kitchen was built, the students cooked on hotplates and in microwaves and washed dishes in the Crownover faculty lounge. Now, they have their own space.

“Before, we could only cook on Friday because of the time constraints. Now we have more opportunities to practice,” life skills teacher Julie Davidson said, adding that students have an added sense of self-respect because they’re learning skills they’re going to carry through life.

Shannon Richardson, a life skills aide at Crownover, said that having a kitchen makes the cooking process more realistic for students and they no longer have to pretend they have a kitchen. That will make it easier for them to take what they learn and apply it at home, she added.

Planning for the kitchen began about six months ago, said Maryanna Sobstad, kitchen and bath project designer for the Home Depot in Denton. Ten volunteers with Team Depot spent more than 10 hours constructing the life skills kitchen, Sobstad said. The kitchen — appliances included — cost $2,000 without labor costs.

In recent weeks, Davidson said, the kitchen has been used for lessons on placing and removing items from the oven, rinsing dishes and placing them in the dishwasher, unloading a dishwasher, stacking dishes in cabinets, putting away groceries and wiping cabinets off when cooking to kill germs.

“My goal for the students is for them to be independent and do as many things on their own as they can, and so if we’re able to practice that here, it just builds their self-esteem,” Davidson said.

The project has continued to build momentum. Early on, Davidson asked Kayla Phillips, child nutrition manager at Crownover, if she and members of her nutrition team might know of any old kitchen cookware and utensils that could be used for learning activities. Several weeks later, Phillips and her team members showed up with a cart full of new kitchen cookware and utensils purchased with donations from team members.

Then, after the kitchen was designed, Phillips and her team were among the first to tour the addition and they felt that the classroom’s small refrigerator — a fixture for several years — needed to be upgraded, so they donated enough to get a $1,000 Home Depot gift card designated to buy a full-sized refrigerator.

This project is a great example of what can be accomplished when people care enough to get involved in community service projects, and we commend those involved.

Students in the Crownover life skills class are now better equipped to tackle life’s challenges and to gain a higher level of self-respect. And who knows? Maybe they’ll share some of those new skills with their fellow students — most young people we know could benefit from a cooking lesson or two.