Hearing Impaired Students Overcome Breakthrough’s Obstacles

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   Since 1985 Highfields’ Breakthrough program has provided experiential team building services to businesses, organizations and schools. Breakthrough takes place at Highfields’ Onondaga Campus. There are over 300 fun activities offered such as rope courses and trust walks, which are designed to enhance team-building skills and communication.

   Over the past 30 years, more than 40,000 people have participated in Breakthrough! This 30th anniversary year is the most successful year to date with a record breaking number of participants.

   In September, a group of excited students from Lakeview High School visited Breakthrough for the very first time. Their teacher Shannon Verhelle, however, was not a stranger to the program.

   In the early 2000’s, Shannon was a Multisystemic Therapy Counselor. At the time, she worked with middle school students and took them on a field trip to Breakthrough.  She was blown away by the outcome.

   “The thing I loved the most about Breakthrough was that different kids came out shining because of the different opportunities they had here,” she said.  “I liked that different friendships were created, and that it brought kids out of their shell.”

   Now, several years later, Shannon teaches high school students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing at Lakeview High School.  She thought it would be a great idea to revisit Highfields’ Breakthrough program because it made such an impact on her students in the past.

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   Shannon’s colleague, Stephanie Johnson, teaches Special Education and also brought her students to the Breakthrough course. Together they run a Transition Work Experience Program to help their students build resumes and gain skills not just for the workplace, but overall skills of socializing, communication and cooperation.

   Shannon and Stephanie thought that Breakthrough would be a great activity for their students because it helps groups learn to conquer obstacles, effectively overcome difficulties, and develop relationships based on trust.  

   Shannon especially wanted her students to focus on communicating effectively with others.

   “With half of the kids being deaf or hard of hearing, it’s a really good experience for them to learn how to communicate in the real world…when there’s not a teacher or an interpreter following them everywhere,” she said.

   Shannon and Stephanie want to prepare their students for whatever their paths may be after high school – whether that is continued schooling or employment. They want to see their students develop into self-sufficient, successful adults.  

   “A big part of adulthood is being able to work with other people and make adjustments because everybody’s different,” said Shannon.  “Our students understand this through their learning experience at school, but we want them to be able to take it into the workplace as well.”

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   Shannon’s prior experience with Breakthrough was so rewarding and she knew it would be a great fit for her current group of students. 

    “I think Breakthrough is perfect for our students to really interact together and work with each other,” she said.

    Shannon is excited to see what Breakthrough will accomplish over the next 30 years. She looks forward to bringing more students to participate in Breakthrough in the future.

    For more information on Breakthrough, please contact Brenda Weck at bweck@highfields.org or (517) 628-2400 x324.

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