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MATTOON -- The Eastern Illinois Area Special Education's Adult LIFE Academy has been settling into its new home in the former Mattoon Area Adult Education Center building.

The Adult LIFE Academy, which serves students ages 18-21, moved into the ground floor of this two-story brick building, 1617 Lake Land Boulevard, in August but recently set up its first exterior signage for the start of the spring semester in January.

Principal Jennifer Weber said the LIFE Academy is a program that operates out of two locations, with its student academy for ages 3-18 being located in the Hawthorne School building, 2405 Champaign Ave. She said the adult academy has approximately 24 students enrolled and the student academy has about 90.

Weber said the LIFE Academy was created from the merger of the Diagnostic & Development Center that EIASE had operated in the Franklin School building, 1201 S. Sixth St., and the Armstrong Program that the Mattoon school district had operated in the Hawthorne building. The district is now using the Franklin building for its preschool program.

"They worked as a team to make the merger successful," Weber said.

Students in the merged program voted last spring to adopt Learning Independence and Fostering Excellence (LIFE) for their name, Weber said. They also voted in favor of having a wolf as their mascot, and blue and green as their school colors.

Weber said the Mattoon school district renovated three classrooms in the former Mattoon Area Adult Education Center building, which the district owns, in preparation for use by the Adult LIFE Academy.

"We did a big move over the summer," Weber said of relocating into the building's ground floor. She noted that the Eastern Illinois Education for Employment System is continuing to use the north end of the building's second floor.

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The Adult LIFE Academy teaches students ages 18-21 with special needs independent living skills that they can use at home and in vocational settings. The renovated classrooms include a simulated apartment where students can practice making a bed, cleaning clothes in a washer and dryer, cooking in a kitchen, and other home tasks.

Weber said the students learn lessons in the classroom and get real-world experience off site, such as going on shopping trips, working at Catholic Charities, and helping with janitorial duties at EIASE buildings.

Assistant Principal Patricia Spence said the Adult LIFE Academy has taken on the Armstrong Program's recycling service for cans, cardboard, paper and plastics, and they have expanded this service. She said they are recycling additional types of plastics and collecting materials from more partner locations.

"The community has been very welcoming to us," Spence said.

Adult LIFE Academy students and participating Mattoon High School students are able to sort and bale their collected recyclables on the academy's campus in an adjacent building along Lake Land Boulevard that was already being used by the Armstrong Program's recycling service.

Weber said the Adult LIFE Academy installed a playground last fall on the grounds for special needs students who appreciate the soothing movement of swings and plans to add add more equipment there. She said they also plan to install upgraded exterior signage on the building.

"As we expand the program, I anticipate we will have more classrooms here," Weber said, adding that she hopes to eventually have a store on site where students can sell crafts that they have made.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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