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The+PAES+lab+simulates+a+real-world+work+environment.
The PAES lab simulates a real-world work environment.

The PAES lab simulates a real-world work environment.

The PAES lab simulates a real-world work environment.

Tatum Guidry, Staff Writer

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Three basketball players, three football managers, two bowlers, one swim team member, one cheerleader.  These are only some of the many talents that students in the St. Thomas More Options Program possess.        

So, what’s so special about our school’s program for our classmates?  A better question would be what isn’t.

Natalie Laborde (‘19) is a member of the STM softball team, and Adam Gilmore previously was (Extension Program) the team’s manager.  With a grin spreading across her face, Anna-Kathryn Potier (‘18) recounted, “Having them on the team really brings light to dull moments.  After we lose a game, there’s still some joy in the dugout because we have them.”

Michael Tracy (‘18) is one of the St. Thomas More Cougar Band’s Drum Majors.  Sophie Goodrich (‘18), his co-major, noted that Michael knows each member of the band by name, and they all know him, too.  As much as they love having him with them in practices and performances, he loves being with the band just as much.

Options Director Jennifer Landry beamed with pride as she reflected on what the program has become. “Seeing how well they’re accepted at school and watching them succeed and be proud of themselves is huge.  The things that brings them joy is what brings us joy as well.”

It was eleven years ago when the “perfect storm” occurred that allowed the Options Program to come into existence.  Mrs. Stephanie Stevenson, mother of Matthew Stevenson (Extension Program), couldn’t help but smile when recounting the events that perfectly and simultaneously took place.

“My father and Ms. Laura Trahan’s, mother of Grant Trahan (‘20) father went to the STM Chancellor at the time, Monsignor Mouton, and received his blessing to start the program.  Then, I went to the STM Principal at the time, Ray Simon, and asked his permission to start the program. He said it was a wonderful idea and we only needed Monsignor’s blessing, not realizing that someone had already approached him,” described Mrs. Stevenson

“At the same time, the family of Robert Zepernick (‘13) came to the school and offered to be the financial backers for the program.  Administration overwhelmingly approved the offer and sent Ms. Danielle Price with Mrs. Zepernick to Paul VI Catholic School in Fairfax, Virginia.  They were overwhelmed at the success of the school’s program and chose to model St. Thomas More’s program after theirs. Options has now been running for ten amazing years.”

The program helps students with all of the special needs they may need assistance with: academic, emotional, speech, motor skills, sensory, etc.  Speech, occupational, and physical therapy are also available to all those who need them at school.

The goal of this program is not that everyone make straight A’s, but that everyone gains independence and has more interaction with their peers.

Day-to-day classes consist of no more than five students to one teacher; these small groups allow for a better learning environment.  Each student’s instruction is individualized to best fit their needs. In this established routine, Options teachers can teach them on their own level.  

To foster independence and social abilities, the students each go to religion class with their grade level.  During this hour, the students are expected to get to class on time, be prepared with the materials they will need, and on task with everyone else.  

If the other students are typing, they should be, too.  Even if it isn’t the exact notes, it’s just important that they are complying with the lesson of the day.

Every student is in Physical Education as an elective. However, upperclassmen get the opportunity to participate in an elective that interests them, too.  For instance, Matthew Noel (‘18) loves writing stories, so he is in the school’s Journalism course. The Junior and Senior students consider their chosen elective their favorite class of the day.   

The Options Program was significantly enhanced this year with the addition of their new classrooms, including a kitchen, a washer and dryer set, and the PAES Lab.  

The students cook weekly in the kitchen — specifically, food that they will be able to prepare on their own at home.  In the first quarter, students focused on breakfast items; in the second, they focused on lunch; they are now focusing on snacks and dinner.  They recently perfected a class favorite, mac-n-cheese.

The goal of learning these culinary skills is that the students will be able to prepare their own food when they are home alone.  Thanks to the new classrooms, they can.

Students are also now able to wash their PE uniforms every week with the classroom’s washer and dryer.  In addition to that, they also wash some team uniforms or tablecloths that are used for school events. This is yet another outlet that equips the students for success in being independent.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspects of the new classrooms is the PAES Lab.  For one hour during the day, students get to experience job training directly on campus.  They get to class, clock in, and receive a stopwatch that allows them to manage their time while completing a given task.  

Students are given one of five available jobs that they are to do for the period.  Each job corresponds with a different area of occupation. By rotating each day, the Options teachers are able to see which area students excel the most in, or what job is best for them to pursue once they leave St. Thomas More.  Whether it be organizing products for a company or babysitting children, it’s really beneficial for them to work. Having a job equips them to live the most independent life possible, which is the goal.

When they are done with their assignment for the day, they are to pick up their materials and clock out before the bell rings to signal the next class.  Options Director Jennifer Landry reflected, “It’s an intense hour for them, but it’s fantastic.”                                                                                                                                                                                          

Through this training, some students are already employed.  Adam Gilmore (‘18) works at Stein on Mondays and Thursday and Carmen Simoneaux (‘21) works at Cathedral Carmel, helping with Tiger Care after school during the week.  

In their last year at St. Thomas More, the students each go through a six week off-site job training program.   For Adam, this was at Stein. During the course of his internship, his managers saw how responsible and determined he was, so they offered him a more permanent position.  

Carmen, on the other hand, went through Tiger Care herself in her time at Cathedral.  Her knack for working with children was apparent, so they offered her a job once she got into high school.

Many of the students participate in clubs or teams after school.  The individual coaches and moderators control how our classmates work with the team; the Options teachers are only there to guide them.  These out-of-school activities foster a wonderful sense of belonging and acceptance for the students.

Lunch hour is like “free time” for the Options students. During their lunch hour, the Options mentors sit with the students in the cafeteria to eat lunch with them and talk with them about their day.  Afterward, they bring the students with them into the mall to socialize with their friends.

It is evident by the smile on her face while sitting with her group of friends that lunch is Gabby Gaudet’s (‘21) favorite time of the day. It’s commonplace to see the students being greeted by everyone in the cafeteria and sitting with groups in the mall once they’re done eating; this is the goal.  

Next year, the Options Mentors will be getting their own class, so they will get to spend even more time with the students.  In this class, they will learn more about the ways that they can help the Options students and encourage them to succeed.

Options Mentor Corinne Lafleur (‘19) summed up her experience with her friends in the Options Program with an evident air of joy: “Getting to know each one of them and their beautiful personalities allows me to view our school and the world in a different way — with constant positivity.”

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