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District News

photos of PMS staff wearing autism awareness shirts

We recently caught up with Beth Murrin, Supervisor of Special Education (Grade 6 - Grade 8) to discuss special education and life skills at PMS. Here are some highlights from the conversation. Above: Princeton Middle School staff celebrate Autism Awareness Month.

Q & A with Beth Murrin, Supervisor of Special Education (Gr. 6 - Gr. 8)


Can you tell us about functional education at Princeton Middle School?

Our students who are part of our Multiple Disabilities and Autism programs have always received a program that includes core academic classes focusing on students’ individual educational needs and levels. More recently, families have expressed interest in functional instruction, which helps students apply their knowledge and learning across all domains of living. When we think about the functional application of a student’s education, we consider how we positively impact a student’s independence in their home and community settings in addition to their academic progress.


We now have a renewed Life Skills Room which has provided many new options for our special education students at Princeton Middle School. We were lucky that science students at Princeton High School won a prize from Samsung that included a variety of new, state-of-the-art Samsung appliances that we have put to good use at PMS. 


We have come full circle. At one point the middle school offered a life skills course which was eventually discontinued. We were thrilled to be able to reinstate a similar program because it meets the needs of so many students.

Who uses the Life Skills room?

It’s available to our students in special education who are enrolled in the Independent Living course. Each student at PMS takes four exploratory programs (EP) each semester. We have always supported the inclusive model of education, so our students take the same EP courses as their general education peers. With the addition of the Independent Living course, our students have the opportunity to take this specially designed EP with our Multiple Disabilities and Autism teachers as the instructors for one of their EP courses.


What does the Life Skills class entail?


We focus on communication skills, self-advocacy, executive functioning, household domestic skills, community-based skills, and lifestyle or leisure skills. Examples of lesson focuses include kitchen safety, cleaning and organizing your home, completing laundry, planning and organizing an event with family or friends, staying active, and independently planning and executing a shopping trip. This spring, the classes will visit McCaffrey’s, so they can perform their budgeting and shopping "live," as opposed to just talking about it in the classroom.


One of the Independent Living classes hosted a winter luncheon for their parents. The project occurred over a long period of time and tied in with academic focuses on procedural writing in their literacy class. Students identified favorite recipes and wrote procedural paragraphs about them. Then in the life skills lab, they made shopping lists for the ingredients they would need, practiced creating the recipes, and followed the appropriate safety and sanitary expectations in the kitchen as they cooked and prepped. Students were the hosts, planning out each step of the culminating event. They created invitations, decorations, and recipe books. The class members also organized and executed plans for presenting and serving the food at their event.


In Independent Living many of the class topics focus on tasks that require development of executive functioning skills, such as self-management, taking responsibility, planning, and organizing. The students really enjoy working on these skills in functional situations that help them achieve a sense of independence and maturity.

It sounds like a great class!

It is! I would like to thank our fantastic special education teachers, Greg Koehler and Polly Jo Kassas, who make the program possible. It is their creativity and innovation that have brought the vision to reality at PMS.

How did PPS pay for this program?

We were lucky to be able to re-outfit our space at no cost to the district. In addition to the appliances from Samsung, which were free, we have had a great deal of support from the Special Education Advisory Group (SEPAG), which organized donations of kitchen utensils, plates and bowls, and other furnishings.


The program also has received a generous grant from the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF) to purchase a demonstration table for the life skills lab. The table will allow each class of students to fit around it in order to better see an activity a teacher is modeling–an improvement over huddling along a counter that backs against a wall.


We are really excited that SEPAG and Princeton Education Foundation (PEF) are supporting our students and what we are doing!



Is there anything you would like to add?


We are proud of the way the life skills course links to academics, as well as how special education integrates with the rest of the curriculum. Students who receive support in highly specialized programs for portions of the school day are mainstreamed as much as possible. We know these inclusive opportunities are extremely important to the development of our students and we make great efforts to individualize opportunities and programs to meet each student’s unique needs.

Photo of the Life Skills room at PMS


photo of 2 PMS teachers
photo of PMS teachers