Every Thursday in Stevenson Ranch, one can see a classroom full of Pico Elementary special education children eagerly dancing their way down the street or gleefully visiting a grocery store en masse.
Pico Canyon Elementary teacher Michele Merrill said her field trips with the students in her class are, for many of them, a highlight of the week.
“It’s amazing that they walk them down there and they get to go into the stores and they get to practice what it’s like and how to act and shop,” said Karen Meyer, whose son Michael is a sixth-grader with Down syndrome in Merrill’s class, and he’s been enjoying the field trips for three years. “For a child with Down syndrome, that’s … that’s pretty significant.”
Taking the less than a third of a mile walk each week, the students have been invited by the staff of PetSmart and Ralph’s to come in and enjoy either the atmosphere of their stores, Merrill said.
“Some of my kids have sensory disabilities, which means they have a hard time getting their hair cut and stuff like that,” Merrill said. “And this is called a ‘life skills’ class, so they’re learning different life skills and learning how to do things independently.”
Sometimes in PetSmart, the students will watch dogs get their hair cut or nails done, which makes them less afraid when their barbers bring out the clippers. At Ralph’s, the frozen food department let the children make snowballs and put things in the basket.
Cookies from the bakery are often involved, with the sugary treats also showing up in the classroom for class parties and such.
“I mean, (the stores) donate food and all kinds of toys and things all-year-round for the classroom just to help the kids out with the motivation needs,” Meyer said. “They’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and I can go to the grocery store with my child and he can be extremely helpful, so it’s a very valuable learning experience for him and the whole class.”
Merrill added that when the Ralphs store manager Suzi Henry heard that one of the students from the class might have a hard time getting there for the weekly field trips due to a physical disability, Henry worked out a $1,600 to acquire a stroller for the child.
“I took a picture of one of the other parent’s strollers who was loaning it to us and sent it to her, not realizing they’re like $1,600 apiece for this brand,” Merrill said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it’ … and they came by and presented the carriage to us.”
Merrill explained that the stroller allows for the entire classroom to attend the field trips and participate in hands-on learning.
“Some of my students couldn’t walk that far because of their disabilities; they wouldn’t be able to make it from school to the store without dropping to the ground,” Merrill said. “The stroller means more independence, and my class being able to continue to go on the field trips.”