School and community partnerships benefit kids with autism, providing new life experiences and connections outside the classroom.

Soft SkillsIn central Oregon, a High Desert Education Service District offers services beyond the classroom through community partnerships that enhance experiences for special education students.

At Lava Ridge Elementary in northeast Bend, the Bridges program is a partnership of Bend-La Pine Schools which began in 2000 at Bear Creek Elementary. The K-3 program serves students fro anywhere in the school district.

Lead teacher Teresa Copeland is focusing this year on ways that Bridges can expose students to more experiences. The ten children in the program work with educational assistance on their own individualized program, including general education, music, and physical education. The children eat lunch separate from the general school population, and Bridges is located in a separate building.  At times, that distance has seemed more than physical.

Two of the partnerships Copeland has built this year are on campus. Three first grade students from general education classes visit Bridges every Friday, and spend a half hour doing yoga with Bridges students.

Copeland has cultivated several partnerships starting this year — and two are right on campus.

“They feel like they’re helping kids with yoga, and they’re being helped by other kids,” said first grade teacher Jessica Cromwell.

Community based partnerships are with Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center,Juniper Swim and Fitness, Deschutes Public Library and Lava Lanes.  Students visit the riding center once a week, and the other locations on a regular basis.

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