For more than 20 years, Quality Connections has helped individuals with disabilities become independent, productive members of our community by providing them with employment opportunities, job training and practical life learning programs.
Most people are familiar with us through QC Office, which provides businesses with everything from reams of copy paper to office furnishings, while giving our members hands-on job experience as part of our employment and training services.
Quality Connections has other programs for those with disabilities as well, including QC Learning, a weekday adult day program that uses the Montessori approach to teach life, communication and social skills.
Coronavirus forced us to temporarily stop the program in March, along with some of our other services for those with disabilities. While QC Office is still fully operational, with our call-center team working safely from their homes, we’ve had to suspend our training program for workers with disabilities.
We are grateful for the continued community support from our loyal customers continuing to purchase office products, but we have missed seeing our members each day – they are the main reason we started Quality Connections back in 1999.
That’s why we are thrilled to announce that we’ve been able to resume QC Learning in a temporary location that not only allows our clients and staff to adhere to social distancing norms, but also seems uniquely suited to the Montessori approach.
Last month, Quality Connections began renting the Frontiere property from Coconino County for QC Learning classes. The rustic event venue is about 10 miles southwest of Flagstaff, with amazing views of Rogers Lake and the San Francisco Peaks. The area is filled with a variety of wildlife and it’s common to see elk, mule deer, prairie dogs and even bald eagles there.
This special setting only enhances the Montessori experience for our adult students. One of the pillars of this educational method is the sensorial approach to learning about the world around you. Students are encouraged to learn to notice details like color, shape, texture, smell, sound, weight and temperature.
“Instead of hearing about what a tree is, they’ll be able to see and touch a tree,” said Vicki Barber, the QC learning director. “Instead of seeing pictures of birds, they’ll be able to watch real birds with binoculars. Maria Montessori believed that the outdoors should be your classroom.”
Maria Montessori, after whom the educational method is named, was an Italian physician who became fascinated with the science of how children learn. She felt that children were naturally eager for knowledge and would initiate learning if they had a supportive and thoughtful environment. She opened her first school in 1906.
In the Montessori method, students chose an activity from within a prescribed range of areas like language, math, time skills and practical life skills. There is a book of lessons with pictures and the students pick what they want to pursue on any given day.
“It allows us to tailor each student’s instruction,” said Barber. “We find out where they are, and we follow the learner. It’s as much about guiding them as teaching them.”
Most people are not aware that Maria Montessori initially developed her educational system working with adults with disabilities. Her “a-ha” moment came when she realized her techniques would also be effective with children. Refocusing the Montessori method for adults with disabilities has been the focus of QC Learning for the last five years under Barber’s leadership.
“The important thing is that our education program shows that everyone has the capacity to learn – period, full stop,” said Doug Arnett, QC’s COO.
The goal of QC Learning classes is to help students gain enough skills that they can transition to employment training at QC Office, gaining real-world work experience, and then ultimately secure employment in the community.
QC Learning is open to a maximum of 40 students at a time. It is a state-funded program and candidates must meet state requirements in order to be eligible for the daily daylong classes.
Quality Connections plans to rent the Frontiere property through November for our QC Learning classes. After almost six months of being closed because of COVID-19, it is extremely rewarding to be back with a solution that is safe for our students and puts them once again on the road to discovery and increased independence. FBN
By Armando Bernasconi