It’s doubtful that many who zip by Douglas high school on Highway 75, nine miles south of Albertville, realize they are passing a place where miracles truly do happen.
A community of just 1,000, Douglas sits atop the spit of land in northeast Alabama known as Sand Mountain. The school is part of the Marshall County school system, one of five systems in the county—a fact that makes superintendent Cindy Wigley winch each time she looks at how little local sales tax per student her system gets in comparison to the four city systems.
Her system gets only $226, as compared to $1,047 for Arab and $1,456 for Guntersville. This lack of resources makes the miracles of Douglas High even more impressive.
Preparing special needs students to become productive adults and in a great many cases, able to hold a job.
And as is always true when you are in the miracle making business, it all starts with some miracle workers. Teachers like Kara Simmons, Wendy Thacker and Connie Jenkins, who have more than 50 years’ experience working with special needs students.
Nurse MaShawn Alexander is another critical part of the team.
“I wouldn’t do anything else,” Wendy Thacker told me. The fact that she has done this for more than two decades backs up her statement. “But you have to love it,” she added.
The fact that nurse Alexander jumps on a bus every morning when it heads out to collect students so that she can greet an eight-year-old girl with a tracheotomy when she gets on the bus, and then repeats the process in the afternoon is testimony to a rare dedication.
The program at Douglas places a strong emphasis on life skills. Annie Spike, who oversees special education for the system, describes this approach as, “combining academics, daily living, occupational and interpersonal skills to teach students how to live and work in the community. These are taught to help students become independent and successful.”
A key component is Project SEARCH, a collaboration with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services.
This is a one-year internship program for students with disabilities in their last year of high school. Students participate in up to three internships to explore a variety of career paths. Each student works with a team that includes his or her family, a teach, job coaches and a rehabilitation counselor to recreate an employment goal.
Marshall Medical Centers is a vital part of Project SEARCH. Students do a nine-week rotation at a hospital. They may work in plant operations, supply chain, dietary, physical therapy and other areas.
Sabrina Weaver is system director of Human Resources for Marshall Medical Centers. She has nothing but praise for what the school system is doing.
“This program is very successful,” she says. “Not only do these students learn a lot of skills, but they can so much confidence in themselves. Often when they first get here, they don’t know what to expect and wonder if they have what it takes.
“But when they see that they can do what is expected of them, they just blossom.”
A number of students have been hired by Marshall Medical Centers.
We save the world one life at a time. What goes on at Douglas High School is certainly proof of this.