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Before ArtPrize: Crosswalk Signs, Keeping Up, Basic Manners

ArtPrize venues were filled with students learning about art, but for one group it wasn’t just about that — it was a way to practice the life skills they had learned in the big city.

Every month, moderately cognitive impaired Page Elementary students take a trip to teach them about social skills so they can become independent in their community.

From understanding crosswalk lights to crossing streets to staying with their group — and the always important “not touching,” in the case of Art Prize — trips like this help the students practice skills they’ve learned in the places where they’ll use them in daily life.

“We do a lot of safety lessons throughout the year,” said Nicole Shipley, the school’s MOCI instructor, who along with volunteers and other teachers brought 22 students in grades 3-5 on the trip. “Safety in the big city is a good one since they live in Middleville, where there’s only one stoplight.”

Because the students have a variety of cognitive impairments, other issues besides safety can arise. “A lot of it is trying to get them over their anxieties as a group,” Shipley said.

All ages of students in the MOCI program went to ArtPrize. They’d been taught lessons about understanding crosswalk signs, keeping with one’s group, basic manners and stranger danger.

Jared Grabinski and his son Bradley pose for a picture at ArtPrize
Jared Grabinski and his son Bradley pose for a picture at ArtPrize

Navigating the Big City

One big task they faced came at the busy intersection in the center of town near Rosa Parks Circle. Shipley told her students to “watch the red guy waiting until you see the white running guy, and then you can go.”

Students especially liked an entry that asked visitors to write their dream on a piece of paper then thumbtack it to the wall. “You get to add it, and you’re a part of ArtPrize!” Shipley told them.

But it took a while for some to write their dreams down and stick them to the wall, so others who had finished were getting antsy. That was a perfect time to teach about manners. “Remember, we wait until our friends are finished writing their dreams,” Shipley reminded students.

Skylar Rose said the animal art was her favorite part of the trip, especially an aluminum foil giraffe head. She said she was confident about going on the trip. What did she learn in class before the visit?

“Don’t run away from your class,” she said, “and hold hands when you’re walking.”

Jared Grabinski, who enjoyed the trip with his son, Bradley, thought the adventure went smoothly. “It’s the biggest city they’ve been in, and they seem to be handling it all right,” he said.

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.

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