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Making connections for all students

Some of the CIP students at Rosemount Middle School are pictured with their SEE Squad badges. The SEE Squad, part of the school district's Schools for Energy Efficiency program, points out areas where teachers and students can do more to save energy.

For some Rosemount Middle School students, creating connections with classmates requires more than just meeting a few new friends in class or after-school activities. It's a challenge that requires constant effort.

For some of those students, RMS offers help in the form of street signs, delivery assignments and volunteer opportunities.

The students, all high-functioning autistic children, are part of the communication interaction program at RMS. The program provides a mix of regular curriculum and basic life skills the students need to get by. They learn friendship skills and how to be a good winner and a good loser.

The students learn the same lessons as their peers, but they learn at a different rate, and with different methods. The CIS classroom has a closet full of games students learn to use anything from math skills to social graces.

"A lot of our curriculum is functional skills. They need to be able to get around the community by themselves, eventually," said Sara Keller, who teaches 10 sixth- and seventh grade CIP students. "A lot of them struggle with dealing with change. They need to stay in the same routine every day."

For CIP students at RMS, the daily routine includes a number of activities designed to connect them to their school and their community. CIP students deliver copies around the school, and they are part of the school's SEE Squad, a group of students that makes sure lights are turned off in empty classrooms and teachers are following the rules of the district's Schools for Energy Efficiency program. They make the rounds with pads of Post It notes that read "Thanks for Saving" or "Oops, turn me off."

CIP students place signs at crosswalks each day to mark safe walking routes to and from school, and they volunteer at the nearby Robert Trail Library, greeting visitors and helping the library's teen advisory group.

CIP student Sam Brennan said she enjoys helping at the library. She she joked that she deserved to be paid, but then said she's happy to volunteer her time.

"I'd rather do it for free," she said. "They need the money more than I do."

The students seem to enjoy the work, and Keller believes it helps them feel a connection to their school that they might not otherwise feel.

"They're great kids," she said. "They really enjoy what they do. With the library stuff, they love going over there and helping out. I've got a couple of students who help out in the lunchroom, too.

"Whereas a lot of special education students might feel a little like outcasts, I think it helps them belong."