Back in the 1980s, local teachers were concerned about what would happen to developmentally disabled students once they graduated.
The answer — adult life skills evening classes taught at the school — are going into their third decade.
“We wanted to give them exposure to something they might not get at home,” said teacher Rita Fasching.
“When we started the Life Skills classes, there were usually about 20 people involved — one teacher in a room, and whoever showed up,” said Rita Fasching.
Today the evening classes for developmentally disabled teens and adults average between 40-60 students. Some come from as far away as Hector and Buffalo Lake.
The adult Life Skills classes were started by Redwood community education when Bob Laufenburger and Fasching got an “Adults with Disabilities” grant.
The classes started because Fasching was concerned about what was available for developmentally disabled adults once they graduated from Redwood Falls High School.
“We wanted to give them exposure to something they might not get at home,” Fasching said.
Redwood Valley High School counselor Barb Sellevold was a beginning teacher in the mid-1980s in the district when she was asked to supervise the first adult Life Skills classes.
“It was the funnest class. I just had a blast,” she said last week. “It was set up for very disabled people, and we used to go on field trips.
“My favorite was to the planetarium in Marshall. Watching them watch the constellations was the most fun.”
Sellevold said at the time, the main goal was to teach the developmentally disabled social skills.
“One year, the weekend of prom, the high school students kept their prom decorations up for us, and we held a prom for the REM kids,” said Sellevold. “They came in formal wear, and everyone had a riot.”
Today the adult Life Skills evenings have grown to include classes in cooking, arts and crafts, computers, and fitness.
“We tried sign language and digital camera, but those weren’t hugely popular,” said Fasching.
In addition to using the RACC fitness room, students can play tennis or volleyball.
Today the grants pay for instructors, materials, and RACC rental. The classes are free for the students, and Fasching hopes to keep it that way.
“In the Twin Cities, students have to pay a fee for everything they do. We try to not have a fee, because some can’t afford to pay,” said Fasching.
The classes run from October through April, three times a month. They are set in Redwood Valley High School and Redwood Area Community Center facilities.
“We have the classes in the school when evening activities and concerts are going on,” Fasching pointed out.
Even after all these years, it’s mostly about the social skills. There’s just a lot more people to play with now.