WARREN — In his role as Lt. Governor, Brian Calley has advocated for special needs individuals in an effort to showcase their strengths, rather than their disabilities.
The father of three — including a daughter on the autism spectrum — had the opportunity to see a Warren Woods Public Schools program that is doing just that.
On July 9, Calley visited Warren Woods Tower High School to view the school’s Scratch the Surface after-school program. The program, led by occupational therapists Michele Morgan and Debb Carlton, allows students with special needs to expand their skills in the areas of computer numerical control, machining, sandblasting and woodworking.
During the visit, Morgan and Carlton showed Calley the various machinery the students use in the program. Students Yon Broda, 17, a junior; and Alex Macauley, 15, a sophomore, also provided demonstrations for Calley in regard to what they have learned while in Scratch the Surface. The students make a number of products, including coasters, trivets and serving trays.
“Oftentimes, an individual with a disability gets defined or labeled by their areas of struggle, and people see the ‘can’t’ instead of the ‘can,’” Calley said. “I am on a crusade to change that mindset so we can see their potential first. They have a way to be creative or to express themselves. We need to afford them the same courtesy as everyone else. There are a lot of different ways to a student’s heart.”
Broda said it “was pretty cool” to have the lieutenant governor of Michigan visit the school. Broda said he finds Scratch the Surface “relaxing.”
“It’s been good for me,” he said. “The teachers show you what to do.”
Scratch the Surface was created in response to a new state law that requires restorative practices to address the mental health and behavioral concerns of at-risk students. Scratch the Surface is designed to reach students who do not qualify for special education support, but who have social-emotional issues.
In Scratch the Surface, the instructors help students recognize and manage their emotions and thoughts and also set goals. The program is an extension of the school’s occupational therapy program. The volunteer-run program provides services after school every Wednesday. Students also can work on their lunch hour.
Carlton and Morgan receive a variety of materials from local businesses that are recycled for the program. Some products the students make are available for purchase at Starkweather Art Center in Romeo, Abundant Living Gallery and Gifts in Wyandotte, and Special Treasures, a store housed inside the Macomb Intermediate School District, which is managed by students enrolled in special education programming through the Lutz School in Clinton Township.
After Calley toured the Scratch the Surface classroom, he enjoyed lunch at the Titan Terrace, which is the school’s culinary arts classroom and student-run restaurant. The Titan Terrace is open for lunch at certain times during the school year.
During lunch, Broda and Macauley presented the lieutenant governor with gifts, including a sign that read “The Calleys” and a decorative piece to hang coats, hats or umbrellas.
“We’re just so honored you came to see us,” Carlton told Calley. “You have such a strong record of supporting people at risk.”
Several district administrators attended last Monday’s presentation, including Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici and Deputy Superintendent Neil Cassabon.
“I think it’s exciting to show off the program and what the students can do,” Denewith-Fici said. “It’s definitely a program that makes kids want to come to school.”
Tiffany Snowden talked about how successful her daughter Evelyn Snowden, 16, has been in Scratch the Surface.
“This program has absolutely opened her up,” Snowden said of Evelyn, who will be a junior this fall. “She has made so many nice things. It makes her want to come to school. The program is very important to her. I am so grateful for this program. I can’t wait to see what they will do next year.”