In Broadview Middle School’s upgraded Kindness Kitchen, special education kids learn hands-on skills

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This article was written by Julie Perkins of NewsTimes on November 7, 2021.

 Allison Mannix used to try to teach kids how to do laundry or bake without a functioning washer, dryer or oven.

She’s the teacher for Broadview Middle School’s STEPS program, or the Students Training in Academic and Pre-Vocational Skills, which includes students of varying abilities from autism to learning and intellectual disabilities.

“The program helps bring in functional life skills for the students, which is made challenging when our washer wasn’t working, and the oven was very old and outdated, so baking wasn’t the easiest to do,” said Mannix, who has been a teacher at Broadview for four years and a special education tutor at the school before that.

But now her class’s “Kindness Kitchen” has a new washer, dryer, stove and kitchen island, thanks to a $3,770 grant from the Danbury Student and Business Connection. It was one of $10,000 worth of grants the nonprofit gave out this year.

It’s something the school couldn’t have afforded on its own. Staff had been trying for years to upgrade the appliances.

“We were fundraising to buy the baking ingredients, forget the stove and all that,” said Christine Miller, a counselor who works with students in the STEPS program and others.

Mannix and Miller learned they earned the grant toward the end of a last school year. It gave them hope after a difficult year of remote learning and the hybrid model, they said.

“Coming back to the school year knowing that this was arriving, we were ecstatic,” Mannix said.

Mannix, Miller and their special education students were among the first back in the in-person classroom last year because virtual learning was so challenge for high-needs students. These students returned on the hybrid model last November, while the rest of Broadview came back in January.

The Danbury Student and Business Connection also gave grants to purchase a 3-D printer for manufacturing students at Danbury High School, to revitalize the campus garden at King Street Primary School, and to support a new project at DHS called the Progressive Alliance, which hopes to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and forward-thinking campus and community.

The nonprofit connects students and businesses through mentoring, as well as provides scholarships to students and grants like this.

“When an opportunity like this comes up, we are more than happy to fund it to the best of our ability,” said Susan Queenan, executive director. “Based on the amount that this is impacting the Broadview community, we are here to help support that in any way that we can. I’d love to see this program grow even.”

Broadview has had the Kindness Kitchen for at least 20 years, but the appliances eventually broke and repairs weren’t working, said Miller, who has been at Broadview for 21 years.

The new set-up provides more storage space and easy access for students to reach kitchen supplies.

Students complete various service projects, including washing clothes that the school collects for those in need through its Broadview Boutique. They assist with the Friday Food Program, a pantry for students in need, as well as collect and clean the rags teachers use for their white and chalkboards.

“They work on their social and speech skills when they’re going around the building, their fine motor skills when they’re folding,” said Mannix, adding there are 11 students in the STEPS program this year.

They’re planning a Thanksgiving meal, which wouldn’t have been possible without the new stove. They bake treats for nonprofits like Dorothy Day Hospitality House and the school community, including on teacher or bus driver appreciation days.

“They’re sort of like the ambassadors of kindness,” Miller said.

The students used the kitchen for a pancake breakfast and planned to make cupcakes on Thursday for school members, which teaches measuring skills. Mannix said she used to have the students measure rice, but they didn’t have a way to make it. To teach them how to do laundry, they used to sort clothes they couldn’t wash, she said.

“It was just pretend,” Miller said. “It wasn’t as meaningful.”