Assignment: Education-Project LIVE

Published On: Dec 07 2010 01:33:08 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 07 2010 01:33:00 PM CST

It's the morning work out. Something some of us dread. But for 18-year-old Michael Walch being active is his passion.

"He's a sports nut," said Lisa Walch, Michael's mom.

So, it won't surprise you when you hear one of Michael's goals in life.

"Would probably be being a gym teacher," said Michael Walch, Project LIVE student.

It's a goal Michael is working to achieve through Project LIVE, or Lifelong Independence and Vocational Education.

The program, which just started this year in the Holmen School District, is designed to help special education students, between 18 and 21 years of age, transition into the real world.

"The last couple years of high school, when you have a child with disabilities, you're thinking... okay, we're starting to look to his future. What's he going to be able to do," said Lisa.

Michael has some mild cognitive disabilities, and has been diagnosed with a degenerative, neurological disease called Friedreich's Ataxia.

"What it does is it wears away the nerve tissue around the spine, and so he'd gradually lose the use of his legs which he has," said Lisa. "He can stand for a little bit now and then. It affects other things physically as well."

But Michael pushes on and isn't letting his diagnosis stop him from achieving his life-long goals. And the LIVE program is by his side supporting him every step of the way.

"In the transition, recreation and leisure is critical," said Nicholas Slusser, Project LIVE program director. "So, when he comes out there they get to do their customized workouts and they get to go swimming and especially with Michael... with his disability. It's great to have him in the water with the other boys because he's able to use his legs where as otherwise he's in his wheelchair all day long."

"It's important to me so I can stay strong, build muscle, get in the pool," said Michael. "So, I can stretch out and move around."

Twice a week, an adaptive physical education teacher from the Holmen School District meets Michael and the three other boys in the Project LIVE program at the YMCA for individualized workouts. But physical health is only a part of the program's real-world training.

"Everything else from there on out is individualized," said Slusser. "For example, if one of them is struggling with budgeting and financial needs, I'll have a lesson plan set-up specifically for him. For another one, he's credit deficient at the high school. So, we have him doing some independent work on the computer.

On Thursdays, we go down to Riverfront," said Slusser. "We take the MTU bus so they learn how to use public transportation. We use shared ride public transit service to get around town. We get out in the community. We get to know how to shop, how to budget. Grocery shopping is a big one. We do that every week at Festival Foods."

The class also learns apartment living skills like how to cook, clean and general hygiene. Things many of us don't have to think twice about.

"My biggest goal is that these guys live the kind of lives that they deserve," said Slusser. "A lot of them, sadly, due to their disabilities, they can't do the same things that you and I can do on a daily basis and take for granted."

So, this program is designed to give these boys a little additional help as they transition into adulthood and prepare them for life after high school.

"My plan is to go off to the University," said Michael.

"If it works out where he can live independently in a situation or live with friends that would be great," said Lisa. "And as long as it's close by mom."