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Lee Co. school clothing project gives ‘life skills’ to students with disabilities

Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 10:53 PM EST
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LEESBURG, Ga. (WALB) - Students with disabilities in Lee County are learning life skills while giving back to those in need.

Kristin Classon, 17, is one of several students with an intellectual disability at Lee County High School’s ninth-grade campus.

Kristin Classon
Kristin Classon(source: walb)

Through the Giving Tree project, she and other students with intellectual disabilities are learning life skills that will last them a lifetime and are vital to their growth.

Students like Kristin learn to wash, fold, store, read sizes and sort donated clothes.

The clothes, and even new hygiene products, are given to students in need at her school.

“It probably makes them feel good when we give them clothes because if people don’t have any clothes, we have to give them clothes or shoes or stuff,” said Kristin.

Kristin is learning household skills, giving back and changing, for the better, how her community, and maybe the world, views people with intellectual disabilities.

“Yes, yes it sure does,” said Kristin when asked if she feels good when she gives to those in need.

Emily Smoak is a special education teacher at the ninth-grade campus and helps facilitate the Giving Tree project.

Emily Smoak
Emily Smoak(source: walb)

“It’s skills that we probably wouldn’t be able to work on daily, where now they’re getting that daily practice, which is vital for them,” said Smoak.

Over a thousand pieces of clothing have been donated by businesses and individuals since September. One of the bigger donations came from a Plato’s Closet store.

Teachers said money for the hygiene products was given to the school by the Kiwanis Club.

School officials said that even Georgia State Senator Greg Kirk has donated to the Giving Tree project’s cause.

Before the project started, Smoak and other Lee County ninth-grade campus teachers were already making a difference.

Smoak said she wants to change the way students with disabilities are viewed.

“Special education has always been near and dear to my heart," said Smoak. "I volunteered a lot in high school and that’s where I grew to love it. But I chose special education because I wanted to help change the narrative for how we look at people with disabilities.”

Smoak believes change is a group effort.

“It’s a really big narrative to change and I don’t think there is an easy way to fix it, but I do think through my daily actions, I think it kinda has a butterfly effect,” Smoak said.

Some of those daily actions include helping students with job tasks given to them daily. Smoak said the goal is to eventually have the students work on those projects independently.

During one class period a day, students work in a lab called a Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES).

“They get a box and they have to complete that job task [within that box]. And so again, this is giving them daily skills that they can take into a job, there’s consumer and service, processing, computer technology, business marketing and construction industrial,” Smoak explained.

Smoak has been a special education teacher for five years and is making big waves to change a challenging narrative.

“I think that’s just the teacher in me, is that you want to help kids and you love kids and that’s why you come to work every day,” said Smoak.

A ribbon-cutting will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. on campus when the school officially opens the Giving Tree’s Clothes Closet.

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