The Lally House is a post-secondary transition-to-adult-life education program in Harpers Ferry designed for students with disabilities aged 18-21. Developed, funded, and run by Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), Lally House is a subsidiary program to the high schools. In addition to the day-to-day educational and life skills curriculum, Lally House partners with local businesses to place students within vocational opportunities based on their individual needs.
The school’s head teachers are Judy Burgess and Donna Leake, who both had careers with special needs students in JCPS before transitioning to Lally House to begin its debut year this past fall.
“The program has been in development for a couple of years,” said Burgess. “Donna was an autism consultant for the county, and I taught the special needs program at Washington High School. We both worked together in various capacities for about four years.”
Leake brought the idea of a transition program to the administrative level at JCPS, and both she and Burgess were pleasantly surprised at how openly and quickly the idea was received. “The current superintendent and director of pupil services, especially, were on board immediately,” explained Burgess, “and it allowed us to turn the idea into a reality.”
Though transition programs of this type aren’t uncommon in surrounding school systems, Lally House is literally the first of its kind in West Virginia (a non-residential day program).
“There’s a true need for this population,” Burgess assured. “Once these young people leave school, there’s not a whole lot out there for them in terms of opportunity. Our goal is to intensify the educational experience—we call it life immersion—and do everything with them they will do as adults—which is what they are. We try and give them as much life experience as we can, so they’re as prepared as they can be to pursue whatever type of independence fits them best.”
The curriculum is broken down into sections: Academics (functional reading, writing, math, job skills, social skills, and banking); Life and Work Skills (daily living, cooking, money management, home maintenance, community interaction, work experience, transportation, recreation, and odd jobs). An example would be: students work at various business placements for a specific number of hours each week to gain valuable job skills. They also do a lot of cooking, said Burgess.
“They all have assigned chores for each week, and the food is a big one. In addition to class time, they get together and plan the menu for two weeks. We then all go to the grocery store and do the shopping, then team up to make breakfast and lunch every day. We maintain the flexibility to meet them wherever their needs are and go from there. That’s the genius of the program.”
Steady funding and support is also a priority. “Obviously, we’ll take any kind of funding and donations we can get,” Burgess noted. “And we’ve had so many generous donations so far. Our mission is to help these young people leave high school and acquire as much independence as they’re capable of attaining—affording them a true chance at success. This program has endless possibilities; it’s taught me to never underestimate this population.”
For more information, or to support The Lally House, call 304-724-9547.