Taking Independence for a Ride


On Wednesday afternoons,  Riverbend staff are giving Special Education kids the chance to advance in their independence. The program is called “Engaged Drivers Program”, created by special education teacher Birgit Shipman, physical therapist Debbie McRacken, and occupational therapist Carolene Arnett. Using a specialized golf cart equipped with five point harnesses, electronic switches, a governor, or a device that limits speed, holding 5-7 mph. The students learn the basics of driving in the school’s parking lot. It benefits the kids because “It gives them the opportunity to be like kids their age while also giving them a sense of independence”, said Mrs. Shipman. Similarly, when Mrs. Shipman was asked what encouraged her to pioneer the program, she happily responded, “Watching the kids trying it for the first time and seeing them happy”. The plan is for the kids to take a trip to the DMV in May to receive an ID card. Everyone involved hopes that the program’s participants will feel more independent and more included in Riverbend’s student body. Para Educator Ms. Walton stated that “Everyone from students to parents to staff and beyond are very excited and super supportive” about the program. Jon Martin, a senior aide who works with the kids, said about duplicating the program in other schools, “Absolutely, these students deserve opportunities that every other high schooler gets to have. It’s really cool that everyone has come together to make something like this possible.” With a lot of joy and support for this unique program, it looks like the students are geared up for success.