Grad student Patricia D. Lund (BS ’09) carefully pulled back the cover of her treasured Bernina sewing machine, a gift from her grandfather, her audience of seven high-school students standing by. A former junior high teacher, Lund didn’t know how it would go.
Like all good teachers, she wanted her students to succeed; however, Lund was now working with moderately to profoundly disabled students at the Dan Peterson School in American Fork, Utah. The assignment to help students transition from school to adult life was her dream job, but she felt frustrated by the limited curriculum of vocational skills offered.
Typical assignments included paper shredding and counter wiping, says Lund. “I had the feeling my students were beyond what we were doing. I just needed to discover each student’s individual talent.”
So Lund decided to try teaching sewing. To her delight, the students reacted enthusiastically. Initially, Lund kept it simple: threading the machine and straight stitching. This year, she is teaching her students to make skirts.
“Robin is my little seamstress,” Lund says of a student who picked up the basics in just two days. “She has a definite eye for colors that will go together. . . . There have been times when I have been trying to model how I want her to sew a project and she will stop, pick out better colors, and then let me continue. . . . She’s just like a fashion designer.”
Inspired by her students’ success, Lund started Life Occupation Vocation Education, or LOVE. The program helps students learn skills tailored to their interests and make choices about their future.
The students’ repertoires now include all sorts of crafts. There are Bekah’s Pocket Pals—colorful, microwavable hand warmers. Another student, Chloe, creates counting books for children. They also make handbags, hair accessories, baby items, candy cellophane cones, and molded chocolates. They first sold items to teachers within the school, playing commercials in the hallway. Now LOVE products are available online. All proceeds go to purchasing supplies and to the students.
“I see such potential in these kids,” Lund says. “I have nonverbal children who are making things independently and are happy and making their own choices. It’s been incredible. Aggressive behaviors have declined sharply. . . . Even the way the parents look at their students has changed. I’ve had people see their children work and say, ‘Whoa, I never knew she could do that!’”
While working at Dan Peterson, Lund wanted to further hone her teaching skills and successfully applied for BYU’s graduate program in special education. Her graduate work is helping her delve deeper, particularly a course on transition. “The class really got me soaring and thinking of ways to improve lives for older students with disabilities,” says Lund. She puts what she learns at BYU immediately into practice at work and hopes to do research with her students. Her goal is to start a mentoring program allowing them to explore interests such as dancing and pottery.
“If we don’t give our students opportunities,” Lund says, “we’re not going to see what they can really do. They really rise to the occasion. When you have high expectations of people, they will meet them. . . . Treating students like they are exceptional helps them to become exceptional.”