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South Texas Living


L.I.F.E. with Mrs. Brooks


L.I.F.E. with Mrs. Brooks
More than 400 people enjoyed a meal May 24, as 85 former students and their families, along with former teachers, attended a reunion hosted by Sylvanne Brooks to celebrate her retirement.


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Pascalle Bippert
WCN Correspondent
July 30, 2014
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She retired in June, but Sylvanne Brooks has left a legacy in the lives of her students.

The Floresville Independent School District (ISD) Life Skills teacher bucked convention when she retired. Instead of enjoying a party in her honor, she and her family hosted a gathering for former students and staff in the Wilson County Show Barn, celebrating their success.

Brooks earned her bachelor’s degree in science at the University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she also obtained her counseling certification. She spent 10 years teaching in the Northside ISD in San Antonio, and another 30 teaching high school students in Floresville.

After 1985, Texas changed the law about how special education was taught, to include more societal interactions and inclusion into mainstream classrooms. The new curriculum was called “L.I.F.E. Skills” -- Learning In Functional Environments.

Brooks attended special training with Region 20 and began teaching classes and presenting workshops to teachers from all over the state and the country; she also presented workshops at state teachers’ conferences. Teachers from across the country came to Floresville to see the kids in action.

With Region 20, Brooks helped change how children with special needs are taught. The Life Skills curriculum gives students with special needs the opportunity to interact with the public and teaches them skills that may help them with jobs after graduating from high school. They also learn how to take care of a household, write checks, and many other day-to-day functions of adult life.

The program also has been good for the parents of these students.

“It also helped parents see that this child can do as many household duties as their siblings,” Brooks said. “Too many times, parents will favor the special-needs child and make them not do chores. This can cause resentment among siblings,” Brooks said.

She taught students that they could, indeed, do things for themselves.

Fund-raisers were held to help pay for field trips; this included the students making arts and crafts items or growing plants to sell. Among the most successful fund-raisers were concrete stepping stones with decorative paint and inlays, and a “spook house,” for which they charged admission.

Field trips included the Witte Museum and other places in San Antonio.

“The Floresville school district has been so wonderfully supportive in helping our program,” Brooks said.

The Floresville High School student body also has been supportive of the Life Skills students. The football team adopted the male students, giving them each a team jersey and inviting them to take part in pep rallies.

Her students ran the daily mail delivery service among the Floresville campuses and produced a monthly newsletter, which featured a student of the month, along with interviews of fellow Life Skills students about their jobs or activities. The students would take the newsletters home to show their parents what they had accomplished.

The students went into the Floresville community with their teachers and worked/volunteered at Regency Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation, Deason Animal Hospital, the Best Western Hotel, Walmart, Bealls, H-E-B, and Tractor Supply, among others. They even filed records at Connally Memorial Medical Center.

“It’s the social aspect that is so important,” Brooks said.

The students helped during games, acted as “personal shoppers” for the nursing home residents, and assisted residents at H-E-B and Walmart.

Her students also helped with the Senior Olympics hosted by the three Floresville nursing facilities. Helping the senior citizens taught them important lessons, Brooks said.

“I wanted to let my kids realize that ‘you may have a disability, you may have a problem, but you are always in a position that you can help someone else,’” she said.

“All aspects of the community training program are important, because it lets the community know that these kids are capable of doing so much more than just existing,” Brooks said.

Several of her students hold jobs with local businesses. Some have worked at the Camino Real MHMR-Wilson County Work Center in Floresville.

“We enjoyed having Mrs. Brooks’ students work for us,” said Cindy Herrera at the center. “They were very punctual, well-mannered, caring kids. ... They were very good at what they did for us.”

Students attached labels to products, opened and stacked boxes, and performed assembly-line tasks.

During the reunion Brooks hosted for students and staff from the past 40 years to mark her retirement, 85 former Life Skills students attended, along with parents of students who had passed away. More than 400 people were fed at the May 24 reunion.

She plans a trip to Ireland next summer. Meanwhile, she manages the family’s cattle business and misses her students.

Her impact on the special-needs community will be felt for generations.
 

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