Toolkit: Teaching Academic Life Skills and Loving It

Kara Brooks-Odom teaches at Mt. Hebron High School in Howard County.


Students in Kara Brooks-Odom’s academic life skills classes typically have an IQ below 80 and may or may not be social, or even verbal. Kara says many are able to find gainful employment with some minor modifications to the task or workplace and that brings her great joy.

Here are some of the tools she uses to make it happen:

SOCIAL THINKING CARDS (See photo above) These are used to prompt students to think about their classroom or work behavior. The cards reduce the need to verbally correct students, allowing them to think about their own behavior and self-correct.

BACKPACK The students carefully fill backpacks like these with basic school supplies that are distributed to students in need throughout Howard County.

TOUCH CHAT For students who are limited, low, or non-verbal, the TouchChat app becomes the student’s voice. The complexity of the program is student-specific.

WORK BOXES Sorting, rolling silverware, and packing backpacks are some of the skills practiced and used in community centers, restaurants, and the Career Skills Lab.

MODIFIED CURRICULUM Our students receiving a certificate are expected to participate in general education classes and have meaningful and rigorous classwork, similar to their peers, but modified to their instructional level.

UNIQUE LEARNING This reading and math program includes science components that I use to supplement reading comprehension skills. There are stories and math skills related to getting a job, self-care, social interaction, budgeting, and other young adult and independent skills.