Sara Richardson is the life skills teacher at Stephenville High School - and it's her mission to instill independence into her students.
Originally from Abilene, Richardson received her bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in special education. She moved to Stephenville when her now husband decided to attend Tarleton State University.
“I did my student teaching, subbed a semester in Abilene and then came here,” she said. “I subbed here for one year, was an aide in this exact life skills class for one year and then that teacher decided to go on to something else and this is the start of my fourth year teaching this class. I love it.”
Richardson said she has always had a desire to work with and help educate children.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician for a while - my mom’s a nurse - and I worked in a hospital for a while before deciding it wasn’t for me,” she said. “My youth pastor’s wife actually taught children with disabilities in Abilene and showed us a clip one day of them at the Special Olympics and just the joy on her face working with them. I thought, ‘You know, I think I could do that.’”
Through academics and programs Richardson helps prepare students for life.
“My goal for my students is for them to be as independent as possible. For them to be able to have daily living skills, cooking skills and taking care of the small stuff so they don’t have to be as reliant on others,” she said. “But also for them to be able to prove those nay-sayers or disprove that stigma that’s already on them that they are capable and they are just like the rest of us - they just might learn a little differently.”
A program that has been implemented for the life skills class is called HEROES, which stands for Helping Everyone Reach Out and Expand Strengths. The program - for ages 18 and older - in partnership with local businesses and organizations helps Richardson’s students get real-world experience in the work field.
“Our students are allowed to stay through their 22nd birthday and so once they finish their four years of academics we really tighten our focus on their vocational and functional living,” Richardson said. “Getting them some job shadowing and training and really hoping that when they graduate they can either continue in a volunteer capacity or they can seek out competitive employment.”
Some of the partnerships include Back to the Ranch, HEB, Central Elementary, Grace Place, Choices and Sonic.
“We want people to know that these kids do have strengths and they are capable to participate and be a part of the community and give back. So we really try to instill that in them,” Richardson said.
At the last Stephenville ISD board of trustees meeting Superintendent Matt Underwood spoke about a Stephenville Special Olympics that is in the works, something that Sabrina Carter - Henderson Junior High life skills teacher - has been helping coordinate.
“We are starting that up November 16 and we will have our first field day and the kids will start learning how to play bocce. They will train on that then in the spring we’re going to start training in track and field,” Richardson said. “We’re really excited about that. It will be something else for our students and with the Special Olympics we’ll get some training as well along with coaches and volunteers from Tarleton and that will be a really great opportunity for our students.”