Students in this PA high school program set their own goals — it may be the secret to their success.

About 20 years ago, the students in one Pennsylvania high school's special education program decided they weren't learning enough in the classroom.

Sure, there are some transition skills that can be taught within a school building: how to count change, how to cook (on a single burner), how to sweep linoleum floors.


Instructor Jenny and a student work on money skills. Image via PSPB Creative Group.

But actually learning to be semi-independent in the real world? That's gonna take some practice.

They came up with an idea: an apartment outside of school where they could take turns living and practicing life skills with a transition coach.

That program (called LifeLink) was so successful that it's now a regular part of the curriculum for the Wild Dream Team, the special education program based at State College Area High School in Pennsylvania.

Wild Dream Team students learn how to navigate the bus system. Image courtesy of Jenny Yost-Lee.

"The students came to the conclusion that the classroom methods we were using to teach transition skills weren't sufficient," explains instructor Jenny Yost-Lee. "And they wanted to create a plan that enabled them to learn the skills in the real world."

At the LifeLink apartment, Wild Dream Team students have the opportunity to practice their skills in an environment that's a bit riskier than the classroom — no parents allowed.

It's a huge step forward for students with learning and developmental disabilities who want to push themselves. And it's a perfect complement to the transition curriculum they're learning in school.

The Wild Dream Team helps students with disabilities set goals to reach whatever level of independence is right for them.

All the while, Jenny Yost-Lee and the rest of the staff provide a supportive environment to help students reach those goals.

"My mission is to make [each student] a good neighbor," explains Jenny.

The students' goals, of course, vary widely: join Spanish club, spend a week in the LifeLink apartment, commit to a volunteer position in the community.

Jenny doesn't much care what the students can't do because of their disabilities. "I know what they can't do," she says. "That doesn't matter. I want to know what they can do."

A Wild Dream Team student in a job training program. Image courtesy of Jenny Yost-Lee.

But Jenny doesn't set goals for the students. Instead, they're the ones deciding what they want to do next.

"It's incredibly empowering when the students choose their own goals," Jenny explains. "When they say, 'I'm ready. I want to do this.'"

"This is about showing people what we can do."

Once a student has set a goal, though, that's when Jenny and the team step in. When a student commits to trying something new, "[they] do it unabashedly. There's no turning back."

Although Jenny may have a pivotal role in the success of the Wild Dream Team, she insists, "This is not about me. This is about the students and the team. It's about showing people what we can do."

Want to see for yourself what the students and the program can do? Take a look.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

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